BY GUY DE MAUPASSANT
The broad sunlight threw its burning rays on the
fields, and under this shower of flame life burst
forth in glowing vegetation from the earth. As
far as the eye could see, the soil was green; and
the sky was blue to the verge of the horizon. The
Norman farms scattered through the plain seemed
at a distance like little doors enclosed each in
a circle of thin beech trees. Coming closer, on
opening the worm-eaten stile, one fancied that
he saw a giant garden, for all the old apple-trees,
as knotted as the peasants, were in blossom. The
weather-beaten black trunks, crooked, twisted,
ranged along the enclosure, displayed beneath the
sky their glittering domes, rosy and white. The
sweet perfume of their blossoms mingled with the
heavy odors of the open stables and with the fumes
of the steaming dunghill, covered with hens and
their chickens. It was midday. The family sat at
dinner in the shadow of the pear-tree planted
before the door--the father, the mother, the four
children, the two maid-servants, and the three
farm laborers. They scarcely uttered a word. Their
fare consisted of soup and of a stew composed of
potatoes mashed up in lard.
From time to time one of the maid-servants rose
up and went to the cellar to fetch a pitcher of
The husband, a big fellow of about forty, stared
at a vine-tree, quite exposed to view, which stood
close to the farm-house twining like a serpent
under the shutters the entire length of the wall.
He said, after a long silence:
"The father's vine-tree is blossoming early this
year. Perhaps it will bear good fruit."
The peasant's wife also turned round, and gazed at
the tree without speaking.
This vine-tree was planted exactly in the place
where the father of the peasant had been shot.
* * * * * *
It was during the war of 1870. The Prussians were
in occupation of the entire country. General Faidherbe,
with the Army of the North, was at their head.
Now the Prussian staff had taken up its quarters
in this farm-house. The old peasant who owned it,
Pere Milon Pierre, received them, and gave them the
best treatment he could.
For a whole month the German vanguard remained on
the look-out in the village. The French were posted
ten leagues away without moving; and yet each night,
some of the Uhlans disappeared.
All the isolated scouts, those who were sent out
on patrol, whenever they started in groups of two
or three, never came back.
They were picked up dead in the morning in a field,
near a farm-yard, in a ditch. Their horses even were
found lying on the roads with their throats cut by
a saber-stroke. These murders seemed to have been
accomplished by the same men, who could not be
The country was terrorized. Peasants were shot on
mere information, women were imprisoned, attempts
were made to obtain revelations from children by
But, one morning, Pere Milon was found stretched
in his stable, with a gash across his face.
Two Uhlans ripped open were seen lying three
kilometers away from the farm-house. One of them
still grasped in his hand his blood-stained weapon.
He had fought and defended himself.
A council of war having been immediately constituted,
in the open air, in front of the farm-house, the
old man was brought before it.
He was sixty-eight years old. He was small, thin,
a little crooked, with long hands resembling the
claws of a crab. His faded hair, scanty and slight,
like the down on a young duck, allowed his scalp
to be plainly seen. The brown, crimpled skin of
his neck showed the big veins which sank under
his jaws and reappeared at his temples. He was
regarded in the district as a miser and a hard
man in business transactions.
He was placed standing between four soldiers in
front of the kitchen table, which had been carried
out of the house for the purpose. Five officers
and the Colonel sat facing him. The Colonel was
the first to speak.
"Pere Milon," he said, in French, "since we came
here, we have had nothing to say of you but praise.
You have always been obliging, and even considerate
towards us. But to-day a terrible accusation rests
on you, and the matter must be cleared up. How
did you get the wound on your face?"
The peasant gave no reply.
The Colonel went on:
"Your silence condemns you, Pere Milon. But I
want you to answer me, do you understand. Do you
know who has killed the two Uhlans who were found
this morning near the cross-roads?"
The old man said in a clear voice:
"It was I!"
The Colonel, surprised, remained silent for a
second, looking steadfastly at the prisoner.
Pere Milon maintained his impassive demeanor,
his air of rustic stupidity, with downcast eyes,
as if he were talking to his cure. There was only
one thing that could reveal his internal agitation,
the way in which he slowly swallowed his saliva
with a visible effort, as if he were choking.
The old peasant's family--his son Jean, his
daughter-in-law, and two little children stood
ten paces behind scared and dismayed.
The Colonel continued:
"Do you know also who killed all the scouts of our
Army, whom we have found every morning, for the
past month, lying here and there in the fields?"
The old man answered with the same brutal impassiveness:
"It was I!"
"It is you, then, that killed them all?"
"All of them--yes, it was I."
"Tell me the way you managed to do it?"
This time the peasant appeared to be affected;
the necessity of speaking at some length incommoded
"I know myself. I did it the way I found easiest."
The Colonel proceeded:
"I warn you, you must tell me everything. You will
do well, therefore, to make up your mind about it
at once. How did you begin it?"
The peasant cast an uneasy glance towards his family,
who remained in a listening attitude behind him. He
hesitated for another second or so, then all of a
sudden, he came to a resolution on the matter.
"I came home one night about ten o'clock and the
next day you were here. You and your soldiers gave
me fifty crowns for forage with a cow and two sheep.
Said I to myself: 'As long as I get twenty crowns
out of them, I'll sell them the value of it.' But
then I had other things in my heart, which I'll tell
you about now. I came across one of your cavalrymen
smoking his pipe near my dike, just behind my barn.
I went and took my scythe off the hook, and I came
back with short steps from behind, while he lay there
without hearing anything. And I cut off his head
with one stroke, like a feather, while he only said
'Oof!' You have only to look at the bottom of the
pond; you'll find him there in a coal-bag, with a
big stone tied to it.
"I got an idea into my head. I took all he had on
him from his boots to his cap, and I hid them in
the bake-house in the Martin wood behind the
The old man stopped. The officers, speechless,
looked at one another. The examination was resumed,
and this is what they were told.
* * * * * *
Once he had accomplished this murder, the peasant
lived with only one thought: "To kill the Prussians!"
He hated them with the sly and ferocious hatred of
a countryman who was at the same time covetous and
patriotic. He had got an idea into his head, as he
put it. He waited for a few days.
He was allowed to go and come freely, to go out and
return just as he pleased, as long as he displayed
humility, submissiveness, and complaisance towards
Now, every evening he saw the cavalrymen bearing
dispatches leaving the farmhouse; and he went out
one night after discovering the name of the village
to which they were going, and after picking up by
associating with the soldiers the few words of
German he needed.
He made his way through his farm-yard slipped into
the wood, reached the bake-house, penetrated to the
end of the long passage, and having found the clothes
of the soldier which he had hidden there, he put
them on. Then, he went prowling about the fields,
creeping along, keeping to the slopes so as to avoid
observation, listening to the least sounds, restless
as a poacher.
When he believed the time had arrived he took up
his position at the roadside, and hid himself in a
clump of brushwood. He still waited. At length,
near midnight, he heard the galloping of a horse's
hoofs on the hard soil of the road. The old man put
his ear to the ground to make sure that only one
cavalryman was approaching; then he got ready.
The Uhlan came on at a very quick pace, carrying
some dispatches. He rode forward with watchful eyes
and strained ears. As soon as he was no more than
ten paces away, Pere Milon dragged himself across
the road, groaning: "Hilfe! Hilfe!" ("Help! help!")
The cavalryman drew up, recognized a German soldier
dismounted, believed that he was wounded, leaped
down from his horse, drew near the prostrate man,
never suspecting anything, and, as he stooped over
the stranger, he received in the middle of the
stomach the long curved blade of the saber. He sank
down without any death throes, merely quivering
with a few last shudders.
Then, the Norman radiant with the mute joy of an
old peasant, rose up, and merely to please himself,
cut the dead soldier's throat. After that, he
dragged the corpse to the dike and threw it in.
The horse was quietly waiting for its rider. Pere
Milon got on the saddle, and started across the
plain at the gallop.
At the end of an hour, he perceived two more Uhlans
approaching the staff-quarters side by side. He
rode straight towards them, crying, "Hilfe! hilfe!"
The Prussians let him come on, recognizing the
uniform without any distrust.
And like a cannon-ball, the old man shot between
the two, bringing both of them to the ground with
his saber and a revolver. The next thing he did
was to cut the throats of the horses--the German
horses! Then, softly he re-entered the bake-house,
and hid the horse he had ridden himself in the
dark passage. There he took off the uniform, put
on once more his own old clothes, and going to
his bed, slept till morning.
For four days he did not stir out, awaiting the
close of the open inquiry as to the cause of the
soldiers' deaths; but, on the fifth day, he started
out again, and by a similar stratagem killed two
Thenceforth he never stopped. Each night he wandered
about, prowled through the country at random,
cutting down some Prussians, sometimes here,
sometimes there, galloping through the deserted
fields under the moonlight, a lost Uhlan, a hunter
of men. Then when he had finished his task, leaving
behind the corpses lying along the roads, the old
horseman went to the bake-house, where he concealed
both the animal and the uniform. About midday he
calmly returned to the spot to give the horse a
feed of oats and some water, and he took every
care of the animal, exacting therefore the hardest
But, the night before his arrest, one of the
soldiers he attacked put himself on his guard,
and cut the old peasant's face with a slash of a
He had, however, killed both of them. He had even
managed to go back and hide his horse and put on
his everyday garb, but, when he reached the stable,
he was overcome by weakness, and was not able to
make his way into the house.
He had been found lying on the straw, his face
covered with blood.
* * * * * *
When he had finished his story, he suddenly lifted
his head, and glanced proudly at the Prussian
The Colonel, tugging at his moustache, asked:
"Have you anything more to say?"
"No, nothing more; we are quits. I killed sixteen,
not one more, not one less."
"You know you have to die?"
"I ask for no quarter!"
"Have you been a soldier?"
"Yes, I served at one time. And 'tis you killed
my father, who was a soldier of the first Emperor,
not to speak of my youngest son, Francois, whom
you killed last month near Exreux. I owed this
to you, and I've paid you back. 'Tis tit for tat!"
The officers stared at one another.
The old man went on:
"Eight for my father, eight for my son--that
pays it off! I sought for no quarrel with you.
I don't know you! I only know where you came from.
You came to my house here, and ordered me about
as if the house was yours. I have had my revenge,
and I'm glad of it!"
And stiffening up his old frame, he folded his
arms in the attitude of a humble hero.
The Prussians held a long conference. A captain,
who had also lost a son the month before, defended
the brave old scoundrel.
Then the Colonel rose up, and, advancing towards
Pere Milon, he said, lowering his voice:
"Listen, old man! There is perhaps one way of
saving your life--it is--"
But the old peasant was not listening to him, and
fixing his eyes directly on the German officer,
while the wind made the scanty hair move to and
fro on his skull, he made a frightful grimace,
which shriveled up his pinched countenance scarred
by the saber-stroke, and, puffing out his chest,
he spat, with all his strength, right into the
The Colonel, stupefied, raised his hand, and for
the second time the peasant spat in his face.
All the officers sprang to their feet and yelled
out orders at the same time.
In less than a minute, the old man, still as
impassive as ever, was stuck up against the wall,
and shot while he cast a smile at Jean, his eldest
son, and then at his daughter-in-law and the two
children, who were staring with terror at the
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~