It was four o'clock; the dawn was barely breaking: the pink dawn of early May. Under the glimmering sky the buildings of La Borderie still slept, half in gloom: three long buildings on three sides of the vast square yard, the sheep-cot at the end, the barns on the right, the cow-house, stable, and dwelling-house on the left. Closing the fourth side, the cart-entrance was shut, and secured by an iron bar. On the manure-pit a big solitary yellow cock sounded the reveille in brilliant, clarion tones. A second cock made answer, then a third, and thus the call was caught up and passed on from farm to farm throughout the length and breadth of La Beauce.
On that night, as on most other nights, Hourdequin had joined Jacqueline in her bedroom, a little servant's room that he had allowed her to embellish with flowered wall-paper, chintz curtains, and mahogany furniture. Despite her growing power, she had encountered violent opposition whenever she had made an attempt to share with him the room formerly occupied by his deceased wife, the conjugal chamber which he protected out of some remnant of respect. She was much hurt at this, understanding that she would never be the real mistress until she slept in the old oak bedstead with red cotton hangings.
Jacqueline awoke at early dawn and lay on her back, with her eyelids wide open, while the farmer was still snoring beside her. Amid the exciting warmth of the bed, her black eyes were still dreamy, and her nude, slim, girlish form was throbbing. Nevertheless, she hesitated; then, making up her mind, she lightly stepped across her master—moving so lightly and so deftly that he did not feel her—and noiselessly slipped on a petticoat with hands feverish with her sudden desire. However, as she happened to knock against a chair, he, in his turn, opened his eyes.
"Why, you're dressing! Where are you going?"
"I'm anxious about the bread, and am going to look at it."
Hourdequin dozed off again, mumbling, astonished at the excuse and with his brain at work amid his drowsiness. What an odd notion. The bread didn't need her at that time in the morning. And, goaded by a sharp suspicion, he all at once became wide awake. Amazed at seeing her no longer there, he gazed wanderingly round this servant's room, at his slippers, his pipe, and his razor. What! another freak of passion of that baggage for some farm hand? During the couple of minutes he needed to recover himself, he took a retrospect of the past.
His father, Isidore Hourdequin, was the descendant of an old peasant family of Cloyes, refined and raised to the middle classes in the sixteenth century. All of them had held posts in the salt-revenue: one had been granary-keeper at Chartres; another, controller at Châteaudun; and Isidore possessed some sixty thousand francs when, at twenty-six years of age, on being deprived of his office by the Revolution, he conceived the idea of making a fortune out of the thefts of those scoundrelly republicans who offered the national property for sale. He had an admirable knowledge of the district, he sniffed round, made calculations, and at last paid thirty thousand francs—a bare fifth of the true value—for the three hundred and seventy acres of La Borderie, which was all that remained of the ancient demesne of the Rognes-Bouquevals. Not a single peasant had dared to risk his crowns; only townsfolk, pettifoggers, and financiers derived profit from the Revolutionary proceedings. Besides, it was purely a speculation, for Isidore had no intention of encumbering himself with a farm. He reckoned confidently on selling it at its full value when the disturbances were over, and thus getting his money back five-fold. But the Directory came on, and the depreciation of property continued; so that he could not sell to the expected advantage. His land held him in its grasp, and he became its prisoner; insomuch that, obstinately unwilling to let any of it go, he resolved to farm it himself, in the hope of thus at last realising his dreams of fortune. About this time he married the daughter of a neighbouring farmer who brought him a hundred and twenty acres, so that he now owned some five hundred; and it was thus that this townsman, sprung three centuries previously from a peasant stock, returned to tillage. To tillage on a large scale, however; to the landed aristocracy that had replaced the old all-powerful feudalism.
Alexander Hourdequin, his only son, was born in 1804. He had commenced his studies, discreditably enough, at the college of Châteaudun. He had a passion for land, and decided to return home and help his father, disappointing another dream of the latter, who, finding his fortune advance but slowly, would have liked to sell everything off and start his son in some liberal profession. The young man was twenty-seven, when, on the death of his father, he became master of La Borderie. He was a champion of new methods; his first care, in marrying, was to look out, not for property but for money, for, according to him, if the farm stagnated, the fault lay in lack of capital. The dower he desired, amounting to fifty thousand francs, was brought him by a sister of the notary, Baillehache, a ripe damsel, his senior by five years, extremely ugly, but good-tempered. Then began a long struggle between the farmer and his property; at first a prudent one, but gradually made feverish by mistakes: a struggle renewed every season, every day, which, without making him rich, enabled him to lead the broad life of a big full-blooded man, resolved to deny himself no gratification. For several years things went from bad to worse. His wife had presented him with two children: a boy who had enlisted out of distaste for farming, and who had been made a captain after Solferino; and a delicate, charming girl, the apple of his eye, and the heiress of La Borderie, now that his ungrateful son had become a soldier of fortune. But he lost his wife, and, two months later, his daughter. This was a terrible shock. The captain had left off coming to La Borderie save once a year, and the father all at once found himself alone in the world, without a future, without the stimulus of working for his progeny. But bleed as the wound might internally, he remained outwardly erect, violent, and overbearing. Before the peasantry, who sneered at his machines, and longed for the fall of this middle-class man that presumed to dabble in their occupation, he stood firm. Besides, what could he do? He was ever the closer prisoner of his land. The accumulated labour, and the capital sunk, shut him in more tightly every day, and left him no possible outlet but through disaster.
Hourdequin, square shouldered, broad and florid in face, retaining no other token of middle-class refinement than his small hands, had always been despotically virile towards his female servants. Even in his wife's time he had ravished them all, as a mere matter-of-course, a thing of no further importance. If those daughters of poor peasants that take to dressmaking occasionally avoid a fall, not one of those that take service in farms escape man: servant or master. Madame Hourdequin was still alive when Jacqueline was engaged, out of charity, at La Borderie. Cognet, an old drunkard, used to beat her black and blue; and she was so wizened and scraggy that the bones of her body showed through her rags. Moreover, she was of such reputed ugliness that children used to hoot at her. She would have been taken for under twelve, though in reality she was then nearly eighteen. She helped the servant, and was employed in menial work—in washing up, sweeping the yard, and keeping the live-stock clean—and she became more and more grimy, as if dirt were a delight to her. After the death of the mistress, however, she seemed to get a bit cleaner. All the servants used to turn her up in the straw: not a man came to the farm without doing what he chose with her; and one day, as she went down with her master into the cellar, he also, though previously disdainful, tried to see what the ill-favoured slattern was like. But she resisted furiously, and scratched and bit him so effectually that he was obliged to let her go.
From that moment her fortune was made. She resisted for six months, and then yielded herself up, a little bit at a time. From the yard she rose to the kitchen as servant proper; next she engaged a girl as help; then, grown quite the lady, she had a maid of her own. Now the little scullion had become a stylish, pretty-looking girl, extremely dark, with a firm breast and strong supple limbs, such as develop in those previously made unduly thin by hardship. She became coquettish and extravagant, smothering herself with all sorts of scents, but retaining withal a leaven of uncleanliness. The people of Rognes, the neighbouring farmers, were none the less amazed at the intrigue. Was it actually possible that a man of substance should take a fancy to a wench like that, neither beautiful nor plump—in short, "La Cognette," the daughter of that drunkard Cognet, who might have been seen for the last twenty years breaking stones on the public highway! A fine papa-in-law! And a pretty piece of goods she was! The peasants did not even comprehend that this "piece of goods" was their vengeance, the revenge of the village upon the farm, of the wretched tiller of the soil upon the enriched townsman who had become a large landholder. Hourdequin, at his critical age of fifty-five, gradually became the slave of his fleshly desires, feeling physical need of Jacqueline, as one has the physical needs of hunger and thirst. When she chose to be especially agreeable, she would twine round him cat-like, and satiate him with unscrupulous, brazen shamelessness, such as courtezans do not venture upon; and for one of those hours he humbled himself and begged of her still to stay after quarrels and terrible spasms of resolution, in which he threatened to kick her out of doors.
Only the evening before he had all but struck her, at the close of a stormy attempt she had made to sleep in the bed where his wife had died; and she had refused his embraces all night, beating him away each time he approached; for, though she constantly indulged herself with the farm servants, she kept him on short commons, whetting his passion by abstinence so as to augment her power over him. And thus that morning, in that moist room, in that tumbled bed where her presence still breathed, anger and desire again seized hold of him. He had long had scent of her many infidelities, and now he leapt out of bed, crying aloud: "The strumpet! If I only catch her!"
He dressed rapidly and went down stairs.
Jacqueline had flitted through the silent house in the first faint glimmer of dawn. As she crossed the yard she gave a start on seeing the old shepherd, Soulas, already up. But her desire was so strong that she paid no heed. So much the worse! She slipped past the stable, accommodating fifteen horses, where four of the farm waggoners slept, and made for the garret at the end where Jean had his bed—some straw and a coverlet, but no sheets. Embracing him in his sleep, closing his mouth with a kiss to stifle his cry of surprise, palpitating and out of breath, she whispered:
"It's me, you big stupid! Don't be alarmed. Quick, quick; let's make haste!"
But he took fright. He wouldn't, there, in his own bed, for fear of a surprise. The ladder of the loft was near there, however, so they climbed up, leaving the trap-door open, and fell amid the hay.
"Oh, you big stupid! you big stupid!" repeated Jacqueline in ecstacy, with her coo in the throat, which seemed to rise from her loins.
It was near upon two years since Jean Macquart had come to the farm. On leaving the army he had fallen in, at Bazoches-le-Doyen, with a fellow-soldier—a cabinetmaker like himself—at the house of whose father, a small village contractor and builder employing two or three hands, he had resumed his calling. But his heart was no longer in his work. Seven years of service had put his hand out of practice, and had so set him against the saw and plane that he seemed a different being. Formerly, at Plassans, he stayed hard at work on his wood, without aptitude for book-learning, just knowing the three R's, but yet very reflective and very painstaking, resolved on making himself independent of his horrible family. Old Macquart kept him in leading-strings, appropriated his mistresses under his very eyes, and went every Saturday to the door of his workshop to rob him of his wages. Accordingly, when ill-usage and over-work had killed his mother, he followed the example of his sister Gervaise—who had just run off to Paris with a lover—and decamped, so as not to have to keep his vagabond father. Now he hardly knew himself again; not that he had grown lazy in his turn, but life in the army had enlarged his mind. Politics, for instance, which had once bored him, now absorbed him and led him to reason upon equality and fraternity; so that, what with habits of mouching, troublesome and indolent sentinel work, a sleepy life in barracks, and the wild rough-and-tumble of war, he had so changed that the tools dropped from his hands; he dreamt of his campaign in Italy; and a yearning for rest, a longing to stretch himself on the grass and forget everything, benumbed his efforts.
One morning his master installed him at La Borderie, to make some repairs. There was a good month's work, rooms to floor, doors and windows to be set right almost everywhere. Jean blissfully dragged the work on for six weeks. Meanwhile his master died, and the son, a married man, went off to set up shop in his wife's part of the country. Left at La Borderie, where rotting wood was always coming to light and needing attention, the cabinetmaker did several jobs on his own account; then, as the harvest was beginning, he lent a hand and stayed six weeks longer; so that, noting his zeal, and how kindly he took to agriculture, the farmer ended by keeping him altogether. In less than a year, the ex-artisan became a capital farm servant, carting, ploughing, sowing, reaping, and seeming to satisfy his desire for peace in the restfulness of agriculture. Away with saw and plane! His interest was somewhere else! He seemed born for a field life, with his sober, deliberate way, his love of systematic work, his ox-like temperament inherited from his mother. He started on his new career delightedly with a relish for the country that peasants never know, a relish due to odds and ends of sentimental reading, and to notions of simplicity, virtue, and perfect bliss, such as are found in moral tales for children.
To tell the truth, another cause had kept him, and made him happy at the farm. While he was mending the doors, La Cognette had made a display of her charms amid his shavings. The temptation had, indeed, come from her, for she was attracted by the big fellow's sturdy limbs, and judged him, by his regular massive features, to be a man of virility. He yielded; and then continued as he had begun, dreading that he might be deemed a fool, and tormented, moreover, by a craving for the licentious hussy, who knew so well how to raise men's passions. At heart his native honesty made protest. It was dishonourable to dally with the sweetheart of M. Hourdequin, to whom he owed a debt of gratitude. Of course he adduced justifications: she wasn't the master's wife, but only his Poll, and as she played him false here, there, and everywhere, he might as well profit by it as let others do so. However, such excuses did not prevent his uneasiness from increasing in proportion as he saw the farmer grow more and more fascinated. No doubt it would not end well.
Among the hay Jean and Jacqueline were restraining their breath, when the former, whose ears were on the alert, heard the frame of the ladder creak. He leapt up, and, at the risk of his life, dropped down the opening that was used for throwing fodder down. Hourdequin's head just then appeared on the other side, on a level with the trap-door. He saw at the same glance the shadow of the retreating man, and the woman, still supine, with her legs in the air. Such a fury seized hold of him, that it never occurred to him to descend in pursuit of the gallant; but, with a buffet that would have felled an ox, he overturned Jacqueline, who was now getting up on to her knees again.
"Strumpet!" he shouted.
With a shriek of rage, she denied the evidence.
He had to exercise all his powers of self-restraint to refrain from kicking her into a jelly.
"I saw it! Confess it's true, or I'll kill you."
"No, no, no! It's not true."
Then, when at length she had got upon her feet again, she grew insolent and irritating, resolved to bring her power into full play.
"Besides, what's it got to do with you?" she asked. "Am I your wife? As you don't choose that I should sleep in your bed, I'm free to lie where I like."
She spoke with her dove-like coo, as if in lascivious raillery.
"Come, move out of the way! Let me go down. I'll leave this evening."
"No, this evening. Wait and think it over."
He was left quivering and beyond himself, not knowing on whom to vent his wrath. Though he no longer had the courage to turn her into the street forthwith, how gladly would he have kicked her gallant out of doors. But how was he to catch him now? He had gone straight up into the loft, guided by the open doors, without examining the beds; and when he got down again the four waggoners from the stable were dressing, as was Jean, in his garret. Which of the five had it been? One as likely as the other, and, perhaps, the whole lot, one after the other. Nevertheless, he hoped the man would betray himself. Then he gave his morning orders, sent nobody into the fields, and did not go out himself, but rambled about the farm with clenched fists, scowling and hankering after somebody to knock down.
After the seven o'clock breakfast, this exasperated review of the master's set the whole household in a tremble. At La Borderie there were five hands for the five ploughs, three threshers, two cow-herds or yard-men, a shepherd, and a little swine-herd; in all, twelve servants, without counting the house-maid. Hourdequin began in the kitchen by abusing the latter, because she hadn't put the baking-shovels back in their places on the ceiling. Then he prowled into the two barns, one for oats, the other for wheat, the latter being of immense size, as large as a church, with doors five yards high; and he picked a quarrel with the threshers, whose flails, he said, cut up the straw too much. Then he went through the cow-house, and became furious at finding the thirty cows in good order, the central passage scoured, and the troughs clean. He did not know on what ground to fall foul of the cow-herds, till, glancing outside at the cisterns, which were also under their charge, he noticed that a discharge-pipe was stopped up by some sparrows' nests. As in all the Beauce farms, the rain-water from the slate roofs was here sedulously collected and conducted off by a complicated system of gutters. So he asked, roughly, if they meant to let him die of thirst for the benefit of the sparrows. But the storm finally burst on the waggoners. Although the litters of the fifteen horses in the stable were clean, he began by bawling out that it was disgusting to leave them in such filth. Then, ashamed of his own injustice, and the more exasperated, while paying a visit to the four sheds at the four corners of the farm buildings, where the implements were kept, he was delighted to find a plough with its handles broken. Then he regularly stormed. Did the five beggars amuse themselves by breaking his stock on purpose? He'd send the whole five of them about their business; yes, the whole five of them! He'd have no invidious distinctions! While he swore at them, his flashing eyes looked them through, expecting some paleness or quiver that would reveal the traitor. Nobody flinched, however, and he left them with a wild gesture of despair.
On ending his inspection at the sheep-fold, it occurred to Hourdequin to cross-question the shepherd Soulas. This old fellow of sixty-five had been half-a-century at the farm, and had saved nothing by it, having been preyed upon by his wife, a drunkard and a drab, whom he had just had the happiness of laying beneath the sod. He was in dread lest his old age should presently entail his dismissal, and was hurriedly saving up the few coppers requisite to rescue him from want. Possibly the master might help him; but, then, there was no saying which might die first. And did they give money for tobacco and a nip? Besides, he had made an enemy of Jacqueline, whom he loathed with the jealous hatred of an old servant disgusted by the rapid advancement of such an upstart. Whenever she gave him orders, he was beside himself with rage, remembering how he had seen her in rags and filth. She would assuredly have dismissed him, if she had felt herself strong enough to do so; and this made him prudent. He wanted to keep his place, and shunned all conflict, no matter how sure he might be of his master's support.
The sheep-fold occupied the entire building at the end of the yard, a gallery eighty yards long, in which the eight hundred sheep of the farm were only separated by hurdles. On one side, the ewes, in various groups; on the other, the lambs; and farther on, the rams. Every two months the males, reared for sale, were castrated; while the females were kept to renew the flock of mothers, the oldest of which were sold off every year. The younger were served, at fixed times, by the rams, dishleys crossed with merinos, of superb strain, and stupid gentle aspect, with the heavy head and large rounded nose seen in men addicted to vice. Those entering the sheep-fold were choked by a strong smell, the ammoniacal exhalation from the litter: stale straw on which fresh straw was laid for three months running, the racks being fitted with hangers, so as to raise them as the manure-heap ascended. There was ventilation: the windows being wide, and the floor of the loft above being formed of movable oaken beams, which were taken away as the fodder got less. It was said, however, that this living heat, this soft, warm, fermenting heap, was necessary to the proper growth of the sheep.
Hourdequin, pushing open one of the doors, caught sight of Jacqueline escaping by another. She, also, had thought uneasily of Soulas, feeling sure she had been watched with Jean; but the old man had remained impassive, seeming not to understand why she made herself so agreeable, contrary to her custom. The sight of the young woman leaving the sheep-fold, where she never went, aggravated the farmer's feverish uncertainty.
"Well, Soulas," asked he, "any news this morning?"
The shepherd, very tall and thin, with a long face intersected by wrinkles, and looking as though carved with a bill-hook out of a knot of oak, replied slowly:
"No, Monsieur Hourdequin, nothing whatever, except that the shearers are coming and will soon be at work."
The master chatted for a moment, so as not to seem to be questioning him. The sheep, who had been fed indoors since the first frosts of November, were to be let loose again towards mid-May, when the clover would be ready for them. As for the cows, they were seldom pastured until after the harvest. Yet this land of La Beauce, dry and devoid of natural herbage as it was, yielded good meat; and it was only through routine and laziness that the breeding of oxen was unknown there. Five or six pigs, even, were all that each farm fattened, for its own consumption.
Hourdequin with his hot hand stroked the soft and bright-eyed ewes who had run up with raised heads; while the lambs, pent up a little way off, surged against the hurdles, bleating.
"And so, Soulas, you saw nothing this morning?" he asked again, looking the shepherd full in the face.
The old fellow had seen, but what availed it to speak? His deceased wife, tippler and drab, had familiarised him with the vices of women and the folly of men. Very possibly La Cognette, although betrayed, would still hold her own, and then he would be made the scapegoat, so that an awkward witness might be got out of the way.
"Saw nothing, nothing at all!" he repeated, with dull eyes and stolid face.
When Hourdequin re-crossed the yard he noticed Jacqueline standing there, nervously straining her ears, in fear of what was being said in the sheep-fold. She was pretending to be busy with her poultry: six hundred head of hens, ducks, and pigeons, who were fluttering, chattering, and scratching on the manure-heap, amid a constant hurly-burly. She even relieved her feelings a bit by boxing the ears of the swine-herd, who had upset a bucket of water he was carrying to the pigs. But a single glance at the farmer reassured her. He knew nothing; the old man had held his tongue. Her insolence thus grew greater.
For instance, at the mid-day repast, she displayed a provoking gaiety. As the heavy work had not yet begun, they now only had four meals: bread-and-milk at seven, sopped toast at twelve, bread and cheese at four, soup and bacon at eight. They fed in the kitchen, a vast room, in which stretched a table flanked by two forms. Modern progress was only represented by a cast-iron stove, which took up a corner of the immense hearth. At the end the black mouth of the oven yawned; and along the smoky walls saucepans gleamed and old-fashioned utensils stood in neat rows. As the maid, a stout, plain girl, had baked that morning, a pleasant scent of hot bread rose from the open pan.
"So your stomach's not in working order to-day?" asked Jacqueline audaciously of Hourdequin, who came in last.
Since the death of his wife and daughter he sat at the same table as his servants, as in the good old times, so that he might not have to eat alone. He took a chair at one end, while the servant-mistress did the same at the other. There were fourteen of them, and the maid did the helping.
The farmer having sat down without replying, La Cognette talked of seeing to the food. This consisted of slices of toasted bread broken into a soup-tureen, moistened with wine, and sweetened with ripopée, an old Beauce word for treacle. She asked for a second spoonful of this; pretended to spoil the men, and vented jests that set the table in a roar. Each of her phrases had a double meaning, reminding them that she was leaving that night. There were bickerings and partings, and those who would never have another chance would regret not having dipped their fingers in the gravy for the last time. The shepherd ate on in his chuckle-headed way, while the master, impassive, also seemed not to understand. Jean, to avoid betraying himself, was obliged to laugh with the others, despite his uneasiness; for, to be sure, he deemed himself scarcely straightforward in all this.
After the meal, Hourdequin issued his orders for the afternoon. Out of doors, there were only a few little jobs to finish: the oats to be rolled, and the ploughing of the fallows to be completed, pending the time for cutting the lucern and clover. So he kept two men, Jean and another, to clean the hay-loft. He himself, now plunged into despondency, with his ears buzzing from the reaction of his blood, and very wretched, set out on the prowl, not knowing what occupation to try, to get rid of his vexation. The shearers having installed themselves under one of the sheds, in a corner of the yard, he took up his stand in front of them and watched them.
There were five sallow spindled-shanked fellows, squatting on the ground, with large shears of shining steel. The shepherd passed the ewes over, ranging them on the ground like so many skin bottles, with their four feet tied together, and only just able to lift their heads and bleat. As soon as a shearer caught hold of one of them she became silent, and abandoned herself, blown out like a balloon by the thickness of her wool, which sweat and dust had coated with a hard black crust. Under the rapid shears, the animal came out from the fleece like a bare hand out of a dark glove, all pink and fresh, clad in the gleaming snowy inner wool. Held between the knees of a tall wizened man, one mother, set on her back, with her thighs apart, and her head erect and rigid, made exposure of her belly, which had the hidden whiteness, the quivering skin of an undressed person. The shearers earned three sous per head, and a good workman could shear twenty sheep a day.
Hourdequin, absorbed, was thinking that wool had fallen to eight sous a pound, and that he'd have to make haste and sell, or else it would get too dry, and lose in weight. The year before, congestion of the spleen had decimated the flocks of La Beauce. Everything was going from bad to worse; it meant ruin, bankruptcy, for grain had been falling more and more heavily every month. Once more a prey to agricultural worries, and feeling stifled in the yard, he left the farm and went to take a glance at his fields. His quarrels with La Cognette always ended thus. After swearing and clenching his fists, he gave way, oppressed by suffering, which was only relieved by the contemplation of the infinite green expanses of his wheat and oats.
Ah, how he loved that land of his! With a passion untainted by the keen avarice of the peasant; a sentimental, almost an intellectual, passion; for he felt her to be the common mother, who had given him his life and nourishment—to whom he would return. At first, when quite young, after being brought up upon her, his distaste for college, his impulse to burn his books and stop at the farm, had simply sprung from his free habits, his gay gallops over ploughed fields, his intoxicating open-air life amid the breezes of the plain. But later on, upon succeeding his father, he had loved the land like a lover; his love had ripened, as if he had thenceforward taken her in lawful wedlock to make her fruitful. That tenderness had grown and grown, until he now devoted to her his time, his money, his whole life, as to a good and fertile wife, whose caprices, whose treason even, he would condone. Many a time he flew into a rage when she proved shrewish, when, too damp or too dry, she consumed the seed without yielding a harvest. Then, he began to doubt, and at length accused himself as if he were an impotent or unskilful bridegroom: the fault must have been his if a child had not been born to her. Since then he had been haunted by new methods, had plunged into every innovation, regretting that he had been so lazy at college, and that he had not studied at one of those agricultural schools that he and his father used to make fun of. How many futile attempts; how many experiments ending in failure! And the machines that his servants put out of order; the chemical manure adulterated by the dealers! La Borderie had swallowed up his whole fortune, it now hardly brought him in bread and cheese, and he was expecting the agricultural crisis to finish him off. No matter; he would remain the prisoner of his own soil, and would bury his bones within it, after having kept it for wife up to the very last.
On that day, as soon as he got out of doors, he remembered his son, the captain. The two of them together might have achieved something fine! But he dismissed from his thoughts the memory of the fool who preferred trailing a sword! He had no child now; he would end his days in solitude. Then his neighbours came into his mind, more especially the Coquarts, some landowners who cultivated their farm of Saint-Juste—father, mother, three sons, and two daughters; and who succeeded scarcely better than he did. At La Chamade, the farmer, being near the end of his lease, had left off manuring, letting the property go to rack and ruin. So it was. There was calamity everywhere. One had to work one's self to death, and not complain. Little by little, a soothing calm rose from the broad green fields he was skirting. Some light showers, in April, had brought on the fodder-crops beautifully. The purple clover transported him with delight; he forgot everything else. Then as he was taking a short cut across some ploughed land, to have a look at the work of his two waggoners, the soil clung to his feet; he felt that it was rich and fertile, and it seemed to clasp and hold him back; taking him once more wholly to itself, while the virility, the vigour, the hey-day of his thirty years returned to him. Was not this the only wife for a man? Of what consequence were the whole set of Cognettes, plates out of which every one ate, and with which one might be well content, provided they were clean enough? This excuse, so consonant with his low craving for the baggage, crowned his gaiety. He walked for three hours, and jested with a girl—the servant of those very Coquarts—who was returning from Cloyes on a donkey, and showing her legs.
When Hourdequin went back to La Borderie, he noticed Jacqueline saying good-bye to the farm cats. There were always a troop of them; but whether a dozen, fifteen, or twenty, nobody precisely knew, for the she-cats used to litter in various odd nests of straw, and re-appear with trains of five or six kittens. Next, she went up to the kennels of Emperor and Massacre, the shepherd's two dogs; but they detested her, and growled.
The dinner, in spite of the farewells taken of the animals, went off just as on other days. The master ate and conversed as usual. And at the close of the day nothing more was said about anybody's departure. They all went to sleep, and darkness enwrapped the silent farm.
That very night, too, Jacqueline slept in the room of the late Madame Hourdequin: the state chamber, with its large bed in the depths of an alcove with red hangings. In this room there stood a wardrobe, a small round table, and an arm-chair of the Voltaire style; while above a little mahogany writing-table there hung some medals, framed under glass, and won by the farmer at agricultural competitions. When La Cognette in her chemise, had mounted on to the conjugal couch, she stretched herself upon it, with her turtle-dove chuckle, spreading out her arms and legs as if to take possession of the entire bed.
On the morrow, when she fell on Jean's neck, he repulsed her. Things having now taken a serious turn, it wasn't proper, and he wouldn't consent any more.