Like every other woman, she had had
an affair of the heart. Her father, who was a
mason, was killed by falling from a scaffolding.
Then her mother died and her sisters went their different
ways; a farmer took her in, and while she was quite
small, let her keep cows in the fields. She was
clad in miserable rags, beaten for the slightest offence
and finally dismissed for a theft of thirty sous
which she did not commit. She took service on
another farm where she tended the poultry; and as she
was well thought of by her master, her fellow-workers
soon grew jealous.
One evening in August (she was then
eighteen years old), they persuaded her to accompany
them to the fair at Colleville. She was immediately
dazzled by the noise, the lights in the trees, the
brightness of the dresses, the laces and gold crosses,
and the crowd of people all hopping at the same time.
She was standing modestly at a distance, when presently
a young man of well-to-do appearance, who had been
leaning on the pole of a wagon and smoking his pipe,
approached her, and asked her for a dance. He
treated her to cider and cake, bought her a silk shawl,
and then, thinking she had guessed his purpose, offered
to see her home. When they came to the end of
a field he threw her down brutally. But she grew
frightened and screamed, and he walked off.
One evening, on the road leading to
Beaumont, she came upon a wagon loaded with hay, and
when she overtook it, she recognised Theodore.
He greeted her calmly, and asked her to forget what
had happened between them, as it “was all the
fault of the drink.”
She did not know what to reply and wished to run away.
Presently he began to speak of the
harvest and of the notables of the village; his father
had left Colleville and bought the farm of Les
Écots, so that now they would be neighbours.
“Ah!” she exclaimed. He then added
that his parents were looking around for a wife for
him, but that he, himself, was not so anxious and
preferred to wait for a girl who suited him.
She hung her head. He then asked her whether she
had ever thought of marrying. She replied, smilingly,
that it was wrong of him to make fun of her.
“Oh! no, I am in earnest,” he said, and
put his left arm around her waist while they sauntered
along. The air was soft, the stars were bright,
and the huge load of hay oscillated in front of them,
drawn by four horses whose ponderous hoofs raised clouds
of dust. Without a word from their driver they
turned to the right. He kissed her again and
she went home. The following week, Theodore obtained
They met in yards, behind walls or
under isolated trees. She was not ignorant, as
girls of well-to-do families are for the
animals had instructed her; but her reason
and her instinct of honour kept her from falling.
Her resistance exasperated Theodore’s love and
so in order to satisfy it (or perchance ingenuously),
he offered to marry her. She would not believe
him at first, so he made solemn promises. But,
in a short time he mentioned a difficulty; the previous
year, his parents had purchased a substitute for him;
but any day he might be drafted and the prospect of
serving in the army alarmed him greatly. To Felicite
his cowardice appeared a proof of his love for her,
and her devotion to him grew stronger. When she
met him, he would torture her with his fears and his
entreaties. At last, he announced that he was
going to the prefect himself for information, and
would let her know everything on the following Sunday,
between eleven o’clock and midnight.
When the time grew near, she ran to meet her lover.
But instead of Theodore, one of his friends was at
He informed her that she would never
see her sweetheart again; for, in order to escape
the conscription, he had married a rich old woman,
Madame Lehoussais, of Toucques.
The poor girl’s sorrow was frightful.
She threw herself on the ground, she cried and called
on the Lord, and wandered around desolately until
sunrise. Then she went back to the farm, declared
her intention of leaving, and at the end of the month,
after she had received her wages, she packed all her
belongings in a handkerchief and started for Pont-l’Eveque.
In front of the inn, she met a woman
wearing widow’s weeds, and upon questioning
her, learned that she was looking for a cook.
The girl did not know very much, but appeared so willing
and so modest in her requirements, that Madame Aubain
“Very well, I will give you a trial.”
And half an hour later Felicite was installed in her
At first she lived in a constant anxiety
that was caused by “the style of the household”
and the memory of “Monsieur,” that hovered
over everything. Paul and Virginia, the one aged
seven, and the other barely four, seemed made of some
precious material; she carried them pig-a-back, and
was greatly mortified when Madame Aubain forbade her
to kiss them every other minute.
But in spite of all this, she was
happy. The comfort of her new surroundings had
obliterated her sadness.
Every Thursday, friends of Madame
Aubain dropped in for a game of cards, and it was
Felicite’s duty to prepare the table and heat
the foot-warmers. They arrived at exactly eight
o’clock and departed before eleven.
Every Monday morning, the dealer in
second-hand goods, who lived under the alley-way,
spread out his wares on the sidewalk. Then the
city would be filled with a buzzing of voices in which
the neighing of horses, the bleating of lambs, the
grunting of pigs, could be distinguished, mingled
with the sharp sound of wheels on the cobble-stones.
About twelve o’clock, when the market was in
full swing, there appeared at the front door a tall,
middle-aged peasant, with a hooked nose and a cap on
the back of his head; it was Robelin, the farmer of
Geffosses. Shortly afterwards came Liebard, the
farmer of Toucques, short, rotund and ruddy, wearing
a grey jacket and spurred boots.
Both men brought their landlady either
chickens or cheese. Felicite would invariably
thwart their ruses and they held her in great respect.
At various times, Madame Aubain received
a visit from the Marquis de Gremanville, one of her
uncles, who was ruined and lived at Falaise on
the remainder of his estates. He always came at
dinner-time and brought an ugly poodle with him, whose
paws soiled their furniture. In spite of his
efforts to appear a man of breeding (he even went so
far as to raise his hat every time he said “My
deceased father"), his habits got the better of him,
and he would fill his glass a little too often and
relate broad stories. Felicite would show him
out very politely and say: “You have had
enough for this time, Monsieur de Gremanville!
Hoping to see you again!” and would close the
She opened it gladly for Monsieur
Bourais, a retired lawyer. His bald head and
white cravat, the ruffling of his shirt, his flowing
brown coat, the manner in which he took snuff, his
whole person, in fact, produced in her the kind of
awe which we feel when we see extraordinary persons.
As he managed Madame’s estates, he spent hours
with her in Monsieur’s study; he was in constant
fear of being compromised, had a great regard for
the magistracy and some pretensions to learning.
In order to facilitate the children’s
studies, he presented them with an engraved geography
which represented various scenes of the world; cannibals
with feather head-dresses, a gorilla kidnapping a young
girl, Arabs in the desert, a whale being harpooned,
Paul explained the pictures to Felicite.
And, in fact, this was her only literary education.
The children’s studies were
under the direction of a poor devil employed at the
town-hall, who sharpened his pocket-knife on his boots
and was famous for his penmanship.
When the weather was fine, they went
to Geffosses. The house was built in the centre
of the sloping yard; and the sea looked like a grey
spot in the distance. Felicite would take slices
of cold meat from the lunch basket and they would
sit down and eat in a room next to the dairy.
This room was all that remained of a cottage that
had been torn down. The dilapidated wall-paper
trembled in the drafts. Madame Aubain, overwhelmed
by recollections, would hang her head, while the children
were afraid to open their mouths. Then, “Why
don’t you go and play?” their mother would
say; and they would scamper off.
Paul would go to the old barn, catch
birds, throw stones into the pond, or pound the trunks
of the trees with a stick till they resounded like
drums. Virginia would feed the rabbits and run
to pick the wild flowers in the fields, and her flying
legs would disclose her little embroidered pantalettes.
One autumn evening, they struck out for home through
the meadows. The new moon illumined part of the
sky and a mist hovered like a veil over the sinuosities
of the river. Oxen, lying in the pastures, gazed
mildly at the passing persons. In the third field,
however, several of them got up and surrounded them.
“Don’t be afraid,” cried Felicite;
and murmuring a sort of lament she passed her hand
over the back of the nearest ox; he turned away and
the others followed. But when they came to the
next pasture, they heard frightful bellowing.
It was a bull which was hidden from
them by the fog. He advanced towards the two
women, and Madame Aubain prepared to flee for her life.
“No, no! not so fast,” warned Felicite.
Still they hurried on, for they could hear the noisy
breathing of the bull behind them. His hoofs pounded
the grass like hammers, and presently he began to
gallop! Felicite turned around and threw patches
of grass in his eyes. He hung his head, shook
his horns and bellowed with fury. Madame Aubain
and the children, huddled at the end of the field,
were trying to jump over the ditch. Felicite
continued to back before the bull, blinding him with
dirt, while she shouted to them to make haste.
Madame Aubain finally slid into the
ditch, after shoving first Virginia and then Paul
into it, and though she stumbled several times she
managed, by dint of courage, to climb the other side
The bull had driven Felicite up against
a fence; the foam from his muzzle flew in her face
and in another minute he would have disembowelled
her. She had just time to slip between two bars
and the huge animal, thwarted, paused.
For years, this occurrence was a topic
of conversation in Pont-l’Eveque. But Felicite
took no credit to herself, and probably never knew
that she had been heroic.
Virginia occupied her thoughts solely,
for the shock she had sustained gave her a nervous
affection, and the physician, M. Poupart, prescribed
the salt-water bathing at Trouville. In those
days, Trouville was not greatly patronised. Madame
Aubain gathered information, consulted Bourais, and
made preparations as if they were going on an extended
The baggage was sent the day before
on Liebard’s cart. On the following morning,
he brought around two horses, one of which had a woman’s
saddle with a velveteen back to it, while on the crupper
of the other was a rolled shawl that was to be used
for a seat. Madame Aubain mounted the second
horse, behind Liebard. Felicite took charge of
the little girl, and Paul rode M. Lechaptois’
donkey, which had been lent for the occasion on the
condition that they should be careful of it.
The road was so bad that it took two
hours to cover the eight miles. The two horses
sank knee-deep into the mud and stumbled into ditches;
sometimes they had to jump over them. In certain
places, Liebard’s mare stopped abruptly.
He waited patiently till she started again, and talked
of the people whose estates bordered the road, adding
his own moral reflections to the outline of their
histories. Thus, when they were passing through
Toucques, and came to some windows draped with nasturtiums,
he shrugged his shoulders and said: “There’s
a woman, Madame Lehoussais, who, instead of taking
a young man ” Felicite could not
catch what followed; the horses began to trot, the
donkey to gallop, and they turned into a lane; then
a gate swung open, two farm-hands appeared and they
all dismounted at the very threshold of the farm-house.
Mother Liebard, when she caught sight
of her mistress, was lavish with joyful demonstrations.
She got up a lunch which comprised a leg of mutton,
tripe, sausages, a chicken fricassee, sweet cider,
a fruit tart and some preserved prunes; then to all
this the good woman added polite remarks about Madame,
who appeared to be in better health, Mademoiselle,
who had grown to be “superb,” and Paul,
who had become singularly sturdy; she spoke also of
their deceased grandparents, whom the Liebards had
known, for they had been in the service of the family
for several generations.
Like its owners, the farm had an ancient
appearance. The beams of the ceiling were mouldy,
the walls black with smoke and the windows grey with
dust. The oak sideboard was filled with all sorts
of utensils, plates, pitchers, tin bowls, wolf-traps.
The children laughed when they saw a huge syringe.
There was not a tree in the yard that did not have
mushrooms growing around its foot, or a bunch of mistletoe
hanging in its branches. Several of the trees
had been blown down, but they had started to grow
in the middle and all were laden with quantities of
apples. The thatched roofs, which were of unequal
thickness, looked like brown velvet and could resist
the fiercest gales. But the wagon-shed was fast
crumbling to ruins. Madame Aubain said that she
would attend to it, and then gave orders to have the
It took another thirty minutes to
reach Trouville. The little caravan dismounted
in order to pass Les Ecores, a cliff that overhangs
the bay, and a few minutes later, at the end of the
dock, they entered the yard of the Golden Lamb, an
inn kept by Mother David.
During the first few days, Virginia
felt stronger, owing to the change of air and the
action of the sea-baths. She took them in her
little chemise, as she had no bathing suit, and afterwards
her nurse dressed her in the cabin of a customs officer,
which was used for that purpose by other bathers.
In the afternoon, they would take
the donkey and go to the Roches-Noires, near Hennequeville.
The path led at first through undulating grounds,
and thence to a plateau, where pastures and tilled
fields alternated. At the edge of the road, mingling
with the brambles, grew holly bushes, and here and
there stood large dead trees whose branches traced
zigzags upon the blue sky.
Ordinarily, they rested in a field
facing the ocean, with Deauville on their left, and
Havre on their right. The sea glittered brightly
in the sun and was as smooth as a mirror, and so calm
that they could scarcely distinguish its murmur; sparrows
chirped joyfully and the immense canopy of heaven
spread over it all. Madame Aubain brought out
her sewing, and Virginia amused herself by braiding
reeds; Felicite wove lavender blossoms, while Paul
was bored and wished to go home.
Sometimes they crossed the Toucques
in a boat, and started to hunt for sea-shells.
The outgoing tide exposed star-fish and sea-urchins,
and the children tried to catch the flakes of foam
which the wind blew away. The sleepy waves lapping
the sand unfurled themselves along the shore that
extended as far as the eye could see, but where land
began, it was limited by the downs which separated
it from the “Swamp,” a large meadow shaped
like a hippodrome. When they went home that way,
Trouville, on the slope of a hill below, grew larger
and larger as they advanced, and, with all its houses
of unequal height, seemed to spread out before them
in a sort of giddy confusion.
When the heat was too oppressive,
they remained in their rooms. The dazzling sunlight
cast bars of light between the shutters. Not a
sound in the village, not a soul on the sidewalk.
This silence intensified the tranquility of everything.
In the distance, the hammers of some calkers pounded
the hull of a ship, and the sultry breeze brought them
an odour of tar.
The principal diversion consisted
in watching the return of the fishing-smacks.
As soon as they passed the beacons, they began to ply
to windward. The sails were lowered to one third
of the masts, and with their fore-sails swelled up
like balloons they glided over the waves and anchored
in the middle of the harbour. Then they crept
up alongside of the dock and the sailors threw the
quivering fish over the side of the boat; a line of
carts was waiting for them, and women with white caps
sprang forward to receive the baskets and embrace their
One day, one of them spoke to Felicite,
who, after a little while, returned to the house gleefully.
She had found one of her sisters, and presently Nastasie
Barette, wife of Leroux, made her appearance, holding
an infant in her arms, another child by the hand, while
on her left was a little cabin-boy with his hands
in his pockets and his cap on his ear.
At the end of fifteen minutes, Madame Aubain bade
They always hung around the kitchen,
or approached Felicite when she and the children were
out walking. The husband, however, did not show
Felicite developed a great fondness
for them; she bought them a stove, some shirts and
a blanket; it was evident that they exploited her.
Her foolishness annoyed Madame Aubain, who, moreover
did not like the nephew’s familiarity, for he
called her son “thou"; and, as Virginia
began to cough and the season was over, she decided
to return to Pont-l’Eveque.
Monsieur Bourais assisted her in the
choice of a college. The one at Caen was considered
the best. So Paul was sent away and bravely said
good-bye to them all, for he was glad to go to live
in a house where he would have boy companions.
Madame Aubain resigned herself to
the separation from her son because it was unavoidable.
Virginia brooded less and less over it. Felicite
regretted the noise he made, but soon a new occupation
diverted her mind; beginning from Christmas, she accompanied
the little girl to her catechism lesson every day.