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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Normandy Outing: Jean Roland’s Love-Making
By Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893)
 
From ‘Pierre and Jean’: Translation of Hugh Craig

THE HARVEST was ripe. Beside the dull green of the clover and the bright green of the beets, the yellow stalks of wheat illuminated the plains with a tawny golden gleam. They seemed to have imbibed the sunlight that fell upon them. Here and there the reapers were at work; and in the fields attacked by the scythe the laborers were seen, swinging rhythmically as they swept the huge, wing-shaped blade over the surface of the ground.  1
  After a drive of two hours, the break turned to the left, passed near a windmill in motion,—a gray melancholy wreck, half rotten and condemned, the last survivor of the old mills,—and then entered a pretty court-yard and drew up before a gay little house, a celebrated inn of the district.  2
  They started out, net on shoulder and basket on back. Madame Rosémilly was charming in this costume, with an unexpected, rustic, fearless style of beauty.  3
  The petticoat borrowed from Alphonsine, coquettishly raised and held by a few stitches, so as to enable the wearer to run and leap without fear among the rocks, displayed her ankle and the lower part of the calf—the firm calf of a woman at once agile and strong. Her figure was loose, to leave all her movements easy; and she had found, to cover her head, an immense gardener’s hat of yellow straw, with enormous flaps, to which a sprig of tamarisk, holding one side cocked up, gave the dauntless air of a dashing mousquetaire.  4
  Jean, since receiving his legacy, had asked himself every day whether he should marry her or no. Every time he saw her, he felt decided to make her his wife; but when he was alone, he thought that meanwhile there was time to reflect. She was now not as rich as he was, for she possessed only twelve thousand francs a year;—but in real-estate farms, and lots in Havre on the docks, and these might in time be worth a large sum. Their fortunes, then, were almost equivalent; and the young widow assuredly pleased him much.  5
  As he saw her walking before him on this day, he thought, “Well, I must decide. Beyond question, I could not do better.”  6
  They followed the slope of a little valley, descending from the village to the cliff; and the cliff at the end of this valley looked down on the sea from a height of nearly three hundred feet. Framed in by the green coast, sinking away to the left and right, a spacious triangle of water, silvery blue in the sunlight, was visible; and a sail, scarcely perceptible, looked like an insect down below. The sky, filled with radiance, was so blended with the water that the eye could not distinguish where one ended and the other began; and the two ladies, who were in front of the three men, cast on this clear horizon the clear outline of their compact figures.  7
  Jean, with ardent glance, saw speeding before him the enticing hat of Madame Rosémilly. Every movement urged him to those decisive resolutions which the timid and the hesitating take abruptly. The warm air, in which was blended the scent of the coast, of the reeds, the clover, the grasses, and the marine odor of the rocks exposed by the tide, animated him with a gentle intoxication; and he decided, more and more at every step, at every second, at every look he cast on the graceful outline of the young woman—he decided to hesitate no longer, to tell her that he loved her and wanted to marry her. The fishing party would be of service: it would render a tête-à-tête more easy; and besides, it would furnish a pretty background, a pretty scene for words of love, with their feet in a basin of limpid water, as they watched the long feelers of the shrimps darting through the seaweeds.  8
  When they reached the end of the valley at the edge of the bluff, they perceived a little path that ran down the cliff; and below them, between the sea and the foot of the precipice, about half-way down, a wondrous chaos of enormous rocks, that had fallen or been hurled down, heaped on each other on a kind of grassy broken plain which disappeared toward the south, and which had been formed by ancient landslips. In the long strip of brushwood and turf, tossed, one might say, by the throes of a volcano, the fallen rocks resembled the ruins of a great vanished city that once on a time had looked down on the ocean, itself dominated by the white and endless wall of the cliff.  9
  “How beautiful!” said Madame Rosémilly, pausing.  10
  Jean joined her, and with beating heart offered his hand to guide her down the narrow steps cut in the rock.  11
  They went on in front; while Beausire, stiffening himself on his short legs, held out his bent arm to Madame Roland, who was dazed by the blank depth.  12
  Roland and Pierre came last; and the doctor had to support his father, who was so troubled by vertigo that he sat down, and thus slid from step to step.  13
  The young people, who descended at the head of the party, went rapidly, and suddenly caught sight of a streamlet of pure water springing from a little hole in the cliff, by the side of a wooden bench, which formed a resting-place about the middle of the slope. The streamlet at first spread into a basin about the size of a wash-hand bowl, which it had excavated for itself; and then, falling in a cascade of about two feet in height, flowed across the path where a carpet of cress had grown, and then disappeared in the reeds and grass, across the level where the landslips were heaped up.  14
  “How thirsty I am!” cried Madame Rosémilly.  15
  But how to drink? She tried to collect in the hollow of her hand the water which escaped between her fingers. Jean had a bright idea; he placed a stone in the road, and she knelt on it to drink from the very source with her lips, which were thus raised to the same height.  16
  When she raised her head, covered with glittering drops sprinkled by thousands over her face, her hair, her eyelashes, her bust,—Jean, bending toward her, whispered:—  17
  “How pretty you are!”  18
  She replied in the tone one assumes to scold a child:—  19
  “Will you hold your tongue?”  20
  These were the first words of flirtation which they had exchanged.  21
  “Come,” said Jean, rather discomfited, “let us be off before they overtake us.”  22
  In fact, he was aware that Captain Beausire was quite close to them, and was descending backwards in order to support Madame Roland with both hands; while, higher up and farther away, M. Roland, in a sitting posture, was dragging himself down by his feet and elbows with the speed of a tortoise, and Pierre went before him to superintend his movements.  23
  The path became less steep, and formed now a sloping road that skirted the enormous blocks that had fallen from above. Madame Rosémilly and Jean began to run, and were soon on the shingle. They crossed it to gain the rocks, which extended in a long and flat surface covered with seaweed, in which innumerable flashes of water glittered. The tide was low and far out, behind this slimy plain of sea-wrack with its shining green and black growths.  24
  Jean rolled up his trousers to the knee and his sleeves to the elbow, so as to wet himself with impunity, and cried “Forward!” as he boldly leaped into the first pool that presented itself.  25
  With more prudence, though with equal determination to wade into the water at once, the young woman went around the narrow basin with timid steps,—for she slipped on the slimy weeds.  26
  “Do you see anything?” she said.  27
  “Yes, I see your face reflected in the water.”  28
  “If you only see that, you will not have any fishing to boast of.”  29
  He said in a tender voice:—  30
  “Ah, that is fishing I shall prefer over all!”  31
  She laughed.  32
  “Try, then, and you’ll see how it slips through your net.”  33
  “Well, if you like—”  34
  “I should like to see you catch some prawns—and nothing more—just at present.”  35
  “You are cruel. Let us go farther: there is nothing here.”  36
  He offered her his hand to steady her on the greasy rocks. She leaned on it rather timidly; and he, all at once, felt himself invaded by love, throbbing with desire, hungering for her, as if the passion that was germinating in him had waited for that day to burst forth.  37
  They soon arrived at a deeper crevice, where, beneath the rippling water flowing to the distant sea by an invisible fissure, long, fine, strangely colored seaweeds, with tresses of rose and green, floated as if they were swimming.  38
  Madame Rosémilly exclaimed:—  39
  “Look, look, I see one—a big one, a very big one, down there!”  40
  He perceived it in turn, and went down into the crevice, although the water wet him to the waist.  41
  But the creature, moving its long feelers, quietly retired before the net. Jean drove it toward the wreck, sure of catching it there. When it found itself blockaded, it made a sudden dash over the net, crossed the pool, and disappeared.  42
  The young woman, who was watching in panting eagerness his attempt, could not refrain from crying:—  43
  “Ah, clumsy!”  44
  He was vexed, and without thinking, dragged his net through a pool full of weeds. As he raised it to the surface, he saw in it three large transparent prawns, which had been blindly dragged from their invisible hiding-place.  45
  He presented them in triumph to Madame Rosémilly, who dared not touch them for fear of the sharp, tooth-like point which arms their heads. At last she decided to take them; and seizing between two of her fingers the thin end of their beard, she placed them one after the other in her basket, with some weed to keep them alive.  46
  Then, on finding a shallower piece of water, she entered it with hesitating steps, and catching her breath as the cold struck her feet, began to fish herself. She was skillful and cunning, with a supple wrist and a sportman’s instinct. At about every cast she brought out some victims, deceived and surprised by the ingenious slowness with which she swept the pool.  47
  Jean was taking nothing; but he followed her step by step, touched her dress, bent over her, pretended to be in despair at his awkwardness, and wished her to teach him.  48
  “Show me how,” he said; “show me!”  49
  Then, as their two faces were reflected one beside the other in the clear water, which the deep-growing seaweeds formed into a limpid mirror, Jean smiled at the face so near his which looked up to him from below; and at times threw to it, from the tips of his fingers, a kiss which seemed to fall on it.  50
  “You are very tiresome,” the young woman said. “My dear fellow, never do two things at the same time.”  51
  He replied:—  52
  “I am only doing one. I love you.”  53
  She drew herself up erect, and said in a serious tone:—  54
  “Come now, what is the matter with you for the last ten minutes? Have you lost your head?”  55
  “No, I have not lost my head. I love you, and at last dare to tell you so.”  56
  They were now standing in the pool of sea-water that rose nearly to their knees, and with their dripping hands leaning on their nets, looked into the depth of each other’s eyes.  57
  She resumed in a playful and rather annoyed tone:—  58
  “You are badly advised to speak to me thus at this moment. Could you not wait another day, and not spoil my fishing?”  59
  He replied:—  60
  “Pardon me, but I could not keep silence. I have loved you a long time. To-day you have made me lose my senses.”  61
  Then she seemed at once to take her resolution, and to resign herself to talk business and renounce amusement.  62
  “Let us sit on this rock,” she said: “we shall be able to talk quietly.”  63
  They climbed on a rock a little higher; and when they were settled, side by side, their feet hanging down in the full sunshine, she rejoined:—  64
  “My friend, you are not a child, and I am not a girl. Both of us know what we are about, and can weigh all the consequences of our acts. If you decide to-day to declare your love to me, I suppose naturally you wish to marry me.”  65
  He had scarcely expected such a clear statement of the situation, and answered sheepishly:—  66
  “Why, yes!”  67
  “Have you spoken to your father and mother?”  68
  “No. I wished to know if you would accept me.”  69
  She extended to him her hand, which was still wet, and as he placed his own in it with fervor—  70
  “I am willing,” she said. “I believe you good and loyal. But do not forget that I would not displease your parents.”  71
  “Do you think that my mother has foreseen nothing, and that she would love you as she does if she did not desire a marriage between us?”  72
  “True: I am rather confused.”  73
  They were silent. On his part, he was astonished that she was so little confused and so reasonable. He had expected some pretty airs and graces, refusals which say yes, a whole coquettish comedy of love blended with fishing and the splashing of water. And it was all over; he felt himself bound and married in a score of words. They had nothing more to say to each other, since they were in full accord; and they both now remained somewhat embarrassed at what had passed so rapidly between them, perhaps even somewhat confused,—not daring to speak further, not daring to fish further, not knowing what to do.  74
 
 
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