BY GUY DE MAUPASSANT
The Hawkers' cottage stood at the end of the
Esplanade, on the little promontory where the
jetty is, and where all the winds, all the rain,
and all the spray met. The hut, both walls and
roof, was built of old planks, more or less
covered with tar; its chinks were stopped with
oakum, and dry wreckage was heaped up against
it. In the middle of the room an iron pot stood
on two bricks, and served as a stove, when they
had any coal, but as there was no chimney, it
filled the room, which was ventilated only by
a low door, with acrid smoke, and there the whole
crew lived, eighteen men and one woman. Some
had undergone various terms of imprisonment,
and nobody knew what the others had done, but
though they were all, more or less, suffering
from some physical defect and were nearly old
men, they were still all strong enough for
hauling. For the "Chamber of Commerce" tolerated
them there, and allowed them that hovel to
live in, on condition that they should be
ready to haul, by day and by night.
For each vessel they hauled, each got a penny
by day and two-pence by night. It was not
certain, however, on account of the competition
of retired sailors, fishermen's wives, laborers
who had nothing to do, but who were all stronger
than those half-starved wretches in the hut.
And yet they lived there, those eighteen men
and one woman. Were they happy? Certainly not.
Hopeless? Not that, either; for they occasionally
got a little besides their scanty pay, and
then they stole occasionally, fish, lumps of
coal, things without value to those who lost
them, but of great value to the poor, beggarly
The eighteen supported the woman, and there
was no jealousy on her account. She had no
special favorite among them.
She was a fat woman of about forty, chubby
faced and puffy, of whom Daddy La Bretagne,
who was one of the eighteen, used to say: "She
does us honor."
If she had had a favorite among them, Daddy
La Bretagne would certainly have had the
greatest right to that privilege, for although
he was one of the most crippled among them,
being that he was partially paralyzed in
his legs, he showed himself as skillful
and strong-armed as any of them, and in
spite of his infirmities, he always managed
to secure a good place in the row of haulers.
None of them knew as well as he did how to
inspire visitors with pity during the season,
and to make them put their hands into the
pockets. He was a past master at cadging,
so that among those empty stomachs and
penniless rascals he had windfalls of
victuals and coppers more frequently than
fell rightly to his share. But he did not
make use of them in order to monopolize
their common mistress.
"I am just," he used to say. "Let each of us
have his spoonful in turn, and no more, when
we are all eating out of the same dish."
With the coal he picked up, he used to make
a good fire for the whole band under the iron
pot, in which he cooked whatever he brought
home with him, without anyone complaining
about it, for he used to say:
"It gives you a good fire in which to warm
yourselves for nothing, and the smell of my
stew into the bargain."
As for his money, he spent in drink with the
trollop, and afterwards, what was left of it,
with the others.
"You see," he used to say, "I am just, and
more than just. I give her up to you, because
it is your right."
The consequence was that they all liked Daddy
La Bretagne, so that he gloried in it, and said
"What a pity that we are living under the
Republic! These fellows would think nothing
of making me king."
And one day, when he said this, his trollop
replied: "The king is here, old fellow!" And
at the same time she presented a new comrade
to them, who was no less ragged or wretched
looking than the eighteen, but quite young by
the size of him. He was a tall, thin fellow
of about forty, and without a gray streak
in his long hair. He was dressed only in a
pair of trousers and a shirt, which he wore
outside them, like a blouse, and the trollop
"Here, Daddy La Bretagne, you have two knitted
vests on, so just give him one."
"Why should I?" the hauler asked.
"Because I choose you to," the woman replied.
"I have been living with you set of old men
for a long time, so now I want to have a young
one; there he is, so you must give him a vest,
and keep him here, or I shall throw you up.
You may take it or leave it, as you like. Do
you understand me?"
The eighteen looked at each other, open-mouthed,
and good Daddy La Bretagne scratched his head,
and then said:
"What she asks is quite right, and we must
give way," he replied.
Then they explained themselves, and came to
an understanding. The poor devil did not come
like a conqueror, for he was a wretched clown
who had just been released from prison, where
he had undergone three years' hard labor for
an attempted outrage on a girl, but, with one
exception, the best fellow in the world, so
"And something nice for me," the trollop added,
"for I can assure you that I mean him to reward
me for anything I may do for him."
From that time the household of eighteen persons
was increased to nineteen, and at first all went
well. The clown was very humble, and tried not
to be burdensome to them. Fed, clothed and
supplied with tobacco, he tried not to be too
exacting in the other matter, and if needful,
he would have hauled like the others, but the
woman would not allow it.
"You shall not fatigue yourself, my little man,"
she said. "You must reserve yourself entirely
And he did as she wished.
And soon, the eighteen, who had never been
jealous of each other, grew jealous of the
favored lover. Some tried to pick a quarrel
with him. He resisted. The best fellow in the
world, no doubt, but he was not going to be
taken for a mussel shut up in its shell, for
all that. Let them call him as lazy as a
priest if they liked; he did not mind that,
but when they put hairs into his coffee,
armfuls of rushes among his wreckage, and
filth into his soup, they had better look out!
"None of that, all the lot of you, or you
will see what I can do," he used to say.
They repeated their practical jokes, however,
and he thrashed them. He did not try to find
out who the culprits were, but attacked the
first one he met, so much the worse for him.
With a kick from his wooden clog (it was his
specialty) he smashed their noses into a pulp,
and having thus acquired the knowledge of his
strength, and urged on by his trollop, he
soon became a tyrant. The eighteen felt that
they were slaves, and their former paradise
where concord and perfect equality had reigned,
became a hell, and that state of things could
"Ah!" Daddy La Bretagne growled, "if only I
were twenty years younger, I would nearly kill
him! I have my Breton's hot head still, but my
confounded legs are no good any longer."
And he boldly challenged the clown to a duel,
in which the latter was to have his legs tied,
and then both of them were to sit on the ground
and hack at each other with knives.
"Such a duel," he said, "would be perfectly
fair!" he replied, kicking him in the side
with one of his clogs, and the woman burst
out laughing, and said:
"At any rate, you cannot compete with him on
equal terms as regards myself, so do not worry
yourself about it."
Daddy La Bretagne was lying in his corner and
spitting blood, and none of the rest spoke.
What could the others do, when he, the blusterer
of them all, had been served so? The jade had
been right when she had brought in the intruder,
"The king is here, old fellow."
Only, she ought to have remembered that, after
all, she alone kept hi subjects in check, and
as Daddy La Bretagne said, by a right object.
With her to console them, they would no doubt
have borne anything, but she was foolish enough
to cut down their food, and not to fill their
common dish as full as it used to be. She wanted
to keep everything for her lover, and that raised
the exasperation of the eighteen to its height.
So one night when she and the clown were asleep,
among all these fasting men, the eighteen threw
themselves upon them. They wrapped the despot's
arms and legs up in tarpaulin, and in the presence
of the woman, who was firmly bound, they flogged
him till he was black and blue.
"Yes," old Bretagne said to me, himself, "yes,
Monsieur, that was our revenge. The king was
guillotined in 1793, and so we guillotined our
And he concluded with a sneer, saying:
"But we wished to be just, and as it was not
his head that had made him our king, so, by
Jove, we settled him."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~