THE NOON SUN POURED FIERCELY DOWN UPON THE FIELDS. They stretched
in undulating folds between the clumps of trees that marked each
farmhouse; the different crops, ripe rye and yellowing wheat,
pale-green oats, dark-green clover, spread a vast striped cloak,
soft and rippling, over the naked body of the earth.
In the distance, on the crest of a slope, was an endless line of
cows, ranked like soldiers, some lying down, others standing, their
large eyes blinking in the burning light, chewing the cud and
grazing on a field of clover as broad as a lake.
Two women, mother and daughter, were walking with a swinging step,
one behind the other, towards this regiment of cattle. Each carried
two zinc pails, slung outwards from the body on a hoop from a cask;
at each step the metal sent out a dazzling white flash under the
sun that struck full upon it.
The women did not speak. They were on their way to milk the cows.
When they arrive, they set down one of their pails and approach the
first two cows, making them stand up with a kick in the ribs from
wooden-shod feet. The beast rises slowly, first on its forelegs,
then with more difficulty raises its large hind quarters, which
seem to be weighted down by the enormous udder of livid pendulous
The two Malivoires, mother and daughter, kneeling beneath the
animal's belly, tug with a swift movement of their hands at the
swollen teat, which at each squeeze sends a slender jet of milk
into the pail. The yellowish froth mounts to the brim, and the
women go from cow to cow until they reach the end of the long line.
As soon as they finish milking a beast, they change its position,
giving it a fresh patch of grass on which to graze.
Then they start on their way home, more slowly now, weighed down by
the load of milk, the mother in front, the daughter behind.
Abruptly the latter halts, sets down her burden, Sits down, and
begins to cry.
Madame Malivoire, missing the sound of steps behind her, turns
round and is quite amazed.
"What's the matter with you?" she said.
Her daughter Celeste, a tall girl with flaming red hair and flaming
cheeks, flecked with freckles as though sparks of fire had fallen
upon her face one day as she worked in the sun, murmurs, moaning
softly, like a beaten child:
"I can't carry the milk any further."
Her mother looked at her suspiciously.
"What's the matter with you?" she repeated.
"It drags too heavy, I can't," replied Celeste, who had collapsed
and was lying on the ground between the two pails, hiding her eyes
in her apron.
"What's the matter with you, then?" said her mother for the third
time. The girl moaned:
"I think there's a baby on the way." And she broke into sobs.
The old woman now in her turn set down her load, so amazed that she
could find nothing to say. At last she stammered:
"You . . . you . . . you're going to have a baby, you clod! How can
The Malivoires were prosperous farmers, wealthy and of a certain
position, widely respected, good business folk, of some importance
in the district.
"I think I am, all the same," faltered Celeste.
The frightened mother looked at the weeping girl grovelling at her
feet. After a few seconds she cried:
"You're going to have a baby! A baby! Where did you get it, you
Celeste, shaken with emotion, murmured:
"I think it was in Polyte's coach."
The old woman tried to understand, tried to imagine, to realise who
could have brought this misfortune upon her daughter. If the lad
was well off and of decent position, an arrangement might be come
to. The damage could still be repaired. Celeste was not the first
to be in the same way, but it was annoying all the same, seeing
their position and the way people talked.
"And who was it, you slut?" she repeated.
Celeste, resolved to make a clean breast of it, stammered:
"I think it was Polyte."
At that Madame Malivoire, mad with rage, rushed upon her daughter
and began to beat her with such fury that her hat fell off in the
With great blows of the fist she struck her on the head, on the
back, all over her body; Celeste, prostrate between the two pails,
which afforded her some slight protection, shielded just her face
with her hands.
All the cows, disturbed, had stopped grazing and turned round,
staring with their great eyes. The last one mooed, stretching out
its muzzle towards the women.
After beating her daughter till she was out of breath, Madame
Malivoire stopped, exhausted; her spirits reviving a little, she
tried to get a thorough understanding of the situation.
"--- Polyte! Lord save us, it's not possible! How could you, with
a carrier? You must have lost your wits. He must have played you a
trick, the good-for-nothing!"
Celeste, still prostrate, murmured in the dust:
"I didn't pay my fare!"
And the old Norman woman understood.
Every week, on Wednesday and on Saturday, Celeste went to town with
the farm produce, poultry, cream, and eggs.
She started at seven with her two huge baskets on her arm, the
dairy produce in one, the chickens in the other, and went to the
main road to wait for the coach to Yvetot.
She set down her wares and sat in the ditch, while the chickens
with their short pointed beaks and the ducks with their broad flat
bills thrust their heads between the wicker bars and looked about
them with their round, stupid, surprised eyes.
Soon the bus, a sort of yellow box with a black leather cap on the
top, came up, jerking and quivering with the trotting of the old
Polyte the coachman, a big, jolly fellow, stout though still young,
and so burnt up by sun and wind, soaked by rain, and coloured with
brandy that his face and neck were brick-red, cracked his whip and
shouted from the distance:
"Morning, Mam'selle Celeste. In good health, I hope?"
She gave him her baskets, one after the other, which he stowed in
the boot; then she got in, lifting her leg high up to reach the
step, and exposing a sturdy leg clad in a blue stocking.
Every time Polyte repeated the same joke: "Well, it's not got any
She laughed, thinking this funny.
Then he uttered a "Gee up, old girl!" which started off the thin
horse. Then Celeste, reaching for her purse in the depths of her
pocket, slowly took out fivepence, threepence for herself and
twopence for the baskets, and handed them to Polyte over his
He took them, saying:
"Aren't we going to have our little bit of sport to-day?"
And he laughed heartily, turning round towards her so as to stare
at her at his ease.
She found it a big expense, the half-franc for a journey of two
miles. And when she had no coppers she felt it still more keenly;
it was hard to make up her mind to part with a silver coin.
One day, as she was paying, she asked:
"From a good customer like me you oughtn't to take more than
He burst out laughing.
"Threepence, my beauty; why, you're worth more than that."
She insisted on the point.
"But you make a good two francs a month out of me."
He whipped up his horse and exclaimed:
"Look here, I'm an obliging fellow! We'll call it quits for a bit
"What do you mean?" she asked with an air of innocence.
He was so amused that he laughed till he coughed.
"A bit of sport is a bit of sport, damn it; a game for a lad and a
lass, a dance for two without music."
She understood, blushed, and declared:
"I don't care for that sort of game, Monsieur Polyte."
But he was in no way abashed, and repeated, with growing merriment:
"You'll come to it some day, my beauty, a bit of sport for a lad
and a lass!"
And since that day he had taken to asking her, each time that she
paid her fare:
"Aren't we going to have our bit of sport to-day?"
She, too, joked about it by this time, and replied:
"Not to-day, Monsieur Polyte, but Saturday, for certain!"
And amid peals of laughter he answered:
"Saturday, then, my beauty."
But inwardly she calculated that, during the two years the affair
had been going on, she had paid Polyte forty-eight whole francs,
and in the country forty-eight francs is not a sum which can be
picked up on the roadside; she also calculated that in two more
years she would have paid nearly a hundred francs.
To such purpose she meditated that, one spring day as they jogged
on alone, when he made his customary inquiry: "Aren't we going to
have our bit of sport yet?" She replied:
"Yes, if you like, Monsieur Polyte."
He was not at all surprised, and clambered over the back of his
seat, murmuring with a complacent air:
"Come along, then. I knew you'd come to it some day."
The old white horse trotted so gently that she seemed to be dancing
upon the same spot, deaf to the voice which cried at intervals,
from the depths of the vehicle: "Gee up, old girl! Gee up, then!"
Three months later Celeste discovered that she was going to have a
All this she had told her mother in a tearful voice. Pale with
fury, the old woman asked:
"Well, what did it cost?"
"Four months; that makes eight francs, doesn't it?" replied
At that the peasant woman's fury was utterly unleashed, and,
falling once more upon her daughter, she beat her a second time
until she was out of breath. Then she rose and said:
"Have you told him about the baby?"
"No, of course not."
"Why haven't you told him?"
"Because very likely he'd have made me pay for all the free rides!"
The old woman pondered awhile, then picked up her milkpails.
"Come on, get up, and try to walk home," she said, and, after a
"And don't tell him as long as he doesn't notice anything, and
we'll make six or eight months' fares out of him."
And Celeste, who had risen, still crying, dishevelled and swollen
round the eyes, started off again with dragging steps, murmuring:
"Of course I won't say."
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