I cannot describe the profound, poignant, terrible emotion which stirred my childish heart. I went slowly down into the drawing-room and hid myself in a dark corner, in the depths of a great, old arm-chair, where I knelt and wept. I remained there for a long time no doubt, for night came on. Suddenly some one came in with a lamp–without seeing me, however–and I heard my father and mother talking with the medical man, whose voice I recognized.
He had been sent for immediately, and he was explaining the cause of the accident, of which I understood nothing, however. Then he sat down and had a glass of liqueur and a biscuit.
He went on talking, and what he then said will remain engraved on my mind until I die! I think that I can give the exact words which he used.
“Ah!” said he, “the poor woman! she broke her leg the day of my arrival here. I had not even had time to wash my hands after getting off the diligence before I was sent for in all haste, for it was a bad case, very bad.
“She was seventeen, and a pretty girl, very pretty! Would anyone believe it? I have never told her story before, in fact no one but myself and one other person, who is no longer living in this part of the country, ever knew it. Now that she is dead, I may be less discreet.
“A young assistant teacher had just come to live in the village; he was good-looking and had the bearing of a soldier. All the girls ran after him, but he was disdainful. Besides that, he was very much afraid of his superior, the schoolmaster, old Grabu, who occasionally got out of bed the wrong foot first.
“Old Grabu already employed pretty Hortense, who has just died here, and who was afterward nicknamed Clochette. The assistant master singled out the pretty young girl, who was no doubt flattered at being chosen by this disdainful conqueror; at any rate, she fell in love with him, and he succeeded in persuading her to give him a first meeting in the hayloft behind the school, at night, after she had done her day’s sewing.
“She pretended to go home, but instead of going downstairs when she left the Grabus’, she went upstairs and hid among the hay, to wait for her lover. He soon joined her, and he was beginning to say pretty things to her, when the door of the hayloft opened and the schoolmaster appeared, and asked: ‘What are you doing up there, Sigisbert?’ Feeling sure that he would be caught, the young school-master lost his presence of mind and replied stupidly: ‘I came up here to rest a little among the bundles of hay, Monsieur Grabu.’
“The loft was very large and absolutely dark. Sigisbert pushed the frightened girl to the further end and said: ‘Go there and hide yourself. I shall lose my situation, so get away and hide yourself.’
“When the schoolmaster heard the whispering, he continued: ‘Why, you are not by yourself?’
” ‘Yes I am, Monsieur Grabu!’
” ‘But you are not, for you are talking.’
” ‘I swear I am, Monsieur Grabu.’
” ‘I will soon find out,’ the old man replied, and double-locking the door, he went down to get a light.
“Then the young man, who was a coward such as one sometimes meets, lost his head, and he repeated, having grown furious all of a sudden: ‘Hide yourself, so that he may not find you. You will deprive me of my bread for my whole life; you will ruin my whole career! Do hide yourself!’
“They could hear the key turning in the lock again, and Hortense ran to the window which looked out on to the street, opened it quickly, and then in a low and determined voice said: ‘You will come and pick me up when he is gone,’ and she jumped out.
“Old Grabu found nobody, and went down again in great surprise. A quarter of an hour later, Monsieur Sigisbert came to me and related his adventure. The girl had remained at the foot of the wall unable to get up, as she had fallen from the second story, and I went with him to fetch her. It was raining in torrents, and I brought the unfortunate girl home with me, for the right leg was broken in three places, and the bones had come out through the flesh. She did not complain, and merely said, with admirable resignation: ‘I am punished, well punished!’
“I sent for assistance and for the workgirl’s friends and told them a made-up story of a runaway carriage which had knocked her down and lamed her, outside my door. They believed me, and the gendarmes for a whole month tried in vain to find the author of this accident.
“That is all! Now I say that this woman was a heroine, and had the fiber of those who accomplish the grandest deeds in history.
“That was her only love affair, and she died a virgin. She was a martyr, a noble soul, a sublimely devoted woman! And if I did not absolutely admire her, I should not have told you this story, which I would never tell anyone during her life: you understand why.”
The doctor ceased; mamma cried and papa said some words which I did not catch; then they left the room, and I remained on my knees in the armchair and sobbed, while I heard a strange noise of heavy footsteps and something knocking against the side of the staircase.
They were carrying away Clochette’s body.
by: Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)
The following short story is reprinted from A Selection from the Writings of Guy de Maupassant. Guy de Maupassant. New York: The Review of Reviews Co., 1903.