The SFFaudio Podcast #459 – READALONG: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #459 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, Bryan Alexander, and Julie Davis talk about The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Talked about on today’s show:
1908, subverting expectations, thriller philosophical novel adventure fantasy, a book about anarchists (not really), hot topic, pre-WWI, bring down the system, everybody is a dynamiter, Michael Collins, if you don’t seem to be hiding nobody hunted you out, anarchy against anarchy, the Orson Welles adaption, easier to understand, one female character in the book and she shows up on the last page, Mercury Theater, Welles as Sunday, evil or good?, wine commercials, this old fat guy talking about wine, large people refracted through later media, Gilbert in The Sandman is G.K. Chesterton, confession, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, because it has detectives in it?, sudden reveals, that person is not an anarchist either, the same trick over and over, the Professor, the Marquis, the Father Brown mysteries, Miss Marpole, Reading Short and Deep, The Angry Street: A Bad Dream by G.K. Chesterton, like Scrooge, a very interesting guy, a very rare bird, a conservative intellectual, explaining a lot of what’s going on, The Tremendous Adventures Of Major Brown, The Game (1997), sympathetic to anarchism, the ISIS of its day, submitting to ISIS, its not a critique of anarchism at all, a caricature of anarchists as terrorists, non-violent anarchism, a classic problem, non-terroristic anarchism, fantastic turns of phrase, lampshaded, lighting a lamp against the darkness, a fun romp, the reality of police going after subversive groups, it’s about God, and your relationship to Him and yourself on Earth, Chesterton’s fence, an axiom, a principle, completely reasonable, why conservationism should be the default, he’s so persuasive and witty, these are the kinds of conservatives Jesse is afraid of, the Catholic in Julie, the wisdom of the ages, a noble ideal, Terry Pratchett, Mark Twain, Neil Gaiman, “a man who really knew what was going on”, he dresses kind of goth-y, carrying a sword-cane, the people he admired carried sword-canes, Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, a dog named Bounce, Dante’s Inferno, a great age of satire, turning things upside down, laughing, I love lists, a poet who loves lists, arch-humour, that young man, wild white hat, a cause of philosophy in others, a preview of the ending, Scott couldn’t stand this book, Julie was enchanted by it, its unfixed, there’s no grounding, the duel scene, removing parts of his body, he’s a robot, he’s disassembling himself, a little too far?, Scott is a writer, writers reviewing fiction books, how it was constructed, the subtitle: “A Nightmare”, this is a fantasy, this is a fantastic village, this isn’t real, Dante’s Paradisio, this is just allegorical, that’s hilarious, Scott was raised Catholic, Julie (like Chesterton) was a convert, going all the way, a different kind of reader, the cosmos had turned upside down, looking at everything from the back, where the book’s theme is made manifest, this is what I mean, The Everlasting Man, H.G. Wells, proof, a little dig on evolution, shaking the reader, you have no firm fixed ground, wherever you land you’ll find God, “They said my very walk was respectable, and that seen from behind I looked like the British Constitution”, ridiculous, the conservative view, not a poet who is a poet, the common working man, no peasant wants anarchy, every millionaire is at heart an anarchist, plutocrats as anarchists, WTO protests, agent provocateurs, during the Black Panther era, policeman in disguise: let’s blow stuff up, energetic FBI contributions, kind of Philip K. Dickian, a completely different reveal, A Scanner Darkly, Bob Arctor, Robert Downey, Jr., did Philip K. Dick read this book?, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?‘s fake police station, is Sunday Jesus Christ?, Sunday is God, dressed in the disguise that reveal them as who they really are, pantheists, when men wake up, beautiful nature, a garden, the unmasking, the garden may be Gethsemane, 33 pieces of paper of no value, the question of betrayal, of all days of the week, Rosamund, at the end of time, Heaven is somewhere in Normandy, the marchers, what’s going on?, they all admit they have one hope, the man in the Black Chamber, such a conservative fantasy, secret policeman, the trailer for the 2016 movie adaptation, Nazis and fascists, how could you do a straight up adaptation of this?, Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula: 1895: Seven Days In Mayhem, Dracula marries Queen Victoria, anarchists against Dracula and the vampire elite, a concentration camp holding Sherlock Holmes, Gilbert and Sullivan, a weird detective story about soap operas, the way Sunday is depicted, some of the ways that Sunday is described, he swooned, Sunday is both the Devil and God, looking at him from his hind-parts, kinda weird, the pure good thing, many out loud laughs, “He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else.”, his turns of phrase, why Chesterton is loved by Gaiman and Pratchett, the same kind of wry comedians, easy to get along with, shall we go out and have dinner together now?, isolation, twice two is 2,000 times one, George Bernard Shaw, ‘too see you’d think Britian was in a famine – to see you you’d think we’d know why’, fun and dangerous, WWI, a white feather, The Four Feathers, wearing their white feathers proudly, making another joke about being fat, “anarchists!”, what does that have to do with… Bryan?, Gavrilo Princip was not an anarchists (he was a Nationalist) but he was called one, anticipation of WWI, a glimpse of the desire for violence, Teddy Roosevelt, the older detective, detecting pessimists, discovering a crime in a book of sonnets, really funny, Charles Stross’ laundry series, surveillance and data analysis for pre-crime, chilling, why he’s a dangerous guy, defending the indefensible, he spells it out so clearly, do we all know what’s going on here, the book starts with a poem, looking at it in sentences,

“A cloud was on the mind of men
And wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul
When we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity
And art admired decay;
The world was old and ended:
But you and I were gay;

he’s conflating nihilism and decadence and decay with anarchism, The Decline Of The West, The War Of The Worlds, a grim vitality, “what do you want? martyrs!”, written as a cure for melancholy, An Anatomy Of Melancholy, reading melancholic writers, lassitude, making you thoughtful, flashy, so light in its stated topic, if this was written today…, Britain’s who travel to the Middle East to join ISIS, a pacifist book, pro-life, imagining the bomb going off, the value of each human life, Isaac Asimov, violence as the last refuge of the incompetent, chances, who is the man in the black room?, he’s the Alpha and the Omega, in Syria the war is winding down, a 90% decrease in violence, why did the Vietnam War happen, big agents doing things, why does this anarchist council exist?, I can’t believe that any common man would support, a certain class of people thought it would be honourable or profitable, a different subject for the book, a secret agent style version of this book, Moriarty, Fu Manchu, the daughter of the Dragon, a boogeyman, Fu Manchu is trying to overthrow the British occupation of China, a sympathy argument for Fu Manchu, Pan-Asia, Genghis Khan, turnabout is fairplay, pot kettle black, Alan Moore’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman, Captain Nemo, his mother was a hardcore Stalinist, she was convinced Stalin the great hero of the 20th century, Dorothy Day, attacking organized religion, Marx, neither god nor master, a coherent argument to make, James Dean or Marlon Brando, Kryten in Red Dwarf, mere willingness is the final test, a lengthy lecture on the history of anarchism, Mary Woolstencraft’s husband, Things As They Are; Or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, Parents And Children aka Fathers And Sons, what’s more useful a painting or a pair of shoes, a near contemporary, an active Russian thing, Dan Schwent, really different, almost not a novel, it is a dream, nightmare, The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, that moment, that vertiginous moment, deciding to go another way, setting up these moments, as participators or adaptors, a bunch of people who are wrong about everything, a council, there’s no predominant day of the week, I have to do a podcast on Sunday, it needs to be scheduled, the Club Of Queer Trades stories, how does the schedule happen?, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman was inspired by G.K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon Of Notting Hill,

“a novel written by G. K. Chesterton in 1904, set in a nearly unchanged London in 1984.

Although the novel is set in the future, it is, in effect, set in an alternative reality of Chesterton’s own period, with no advances in technology or changes in the class system or attitudes. It postulates an impersonal government, not described in any detail, but apparently content to operate through a figurehead king, randomly chosen.”

not really science fiction, radical!, not a fan of revolutions, loving Americans, one conservative to think about, The French Revolution, The Russian Revolution, The American Revolution, Queen Elizabeth II is on my money, Tories fled to Canada, Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts, the Tories (political party), Canada’s history as a defense against American radicalism, a distorted perspective, Jesse ruined it, not the first nor the last time, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, prime ministers are not that important, the Premier of British Columbia is John Horgan.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton from FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

SFFaudio Online Audio

If I had to name the one story that’s influenced my reading, and thinking, most in last couple of years I’d name The Horla by Guy de Maupassant. It possesses my mind like a dark and deep tunnel running through my imaginative landscape – if you haven’t heard it yet you should. Below you’ll find my preferred version, but there are more readings, and adaptations HERE – and we did a whole podcast about it, that’s HERE.

One new thing though is this |PDF| which I made from a scan of an issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries – it features the 1911 George Allan England translation.

LibriVoxThe Horla
By Guy de Maupassant; Read by Gregg Margarite
1 |MP3| – Approx. 57 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: LibriVox.org
Published: July 11, 2009
First published in Gil Blas; Oct 26, 1886.

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #125 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #125 – The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, read by Gregg Margarite (of LibriVox), followed by a discussion of the story – participants include Jesse, Tamahome and Jenny Colvin (of the Reading Envy blog).

Talked about on today’s show:
“c’est magnifique!”, is this Jesse’s favourite story from the 19th century?, H.G. Wells, is The Horla Science Fiction, aliens, ghosts, Guy de Maupassant is crafting our feeling on how the story should be interpreted, Mont Saint-Michel, Ladyhawke, Second Life, Normandy, Paris, France, ghosts, goats with human faces, biblical stories of possessed pigs, metaphor of the wind, the wind as a telekinetic force, invisibility, personal experience vs. faith, succubi, vampires, Jim Moon’s Hypnobobs podcast (reading of The Horla and Dairy Of A Madman), was Guy de Maupassant interested in science?, his prolific output, Sigmund Freud, is this a psychological drama?, the character in the movie vs. the short story, sleep paralysis and depression, is the unnamed protagonist of The Horla bioplar?, syphilis, H.P. Lovecraft, Benjamin Franklin, the character has a Science Fiction attitude (a disposition towards science), a story of possession (like in The Exorcist), glowing eyes, Rouen, “excuse my French”, external confirmation, diagnose yourself, São Paulo, Brazil, The Horla means “the beyond”, what lives beyond the Earth?, Jenny wasn’t thinking aliens at all, creatures from other dimensions, the Predator’s cloaking device, is the horla really Santa Claus?, hypnotism and hypnotists, post-hypnotic suggestion, confabulation, its a quasi-phenomenon, why can’t everyone be hypnotized?, Hamlet, did he burn down his house or did the horla do it?, noir, movies demand the defeat of evil, “Son Of The Horla and Spawn Of The Horla“, science and skepticism, who broke all the drinking glasses?, the Futurama version of a Twilight Zone episode,

“The vulture has eaten the dove, and the wolf has eaten the lamb; the lion has devoured the sharp-horned buffalo, and man has killed the lion with arrow, sword and gun; but the Horla is going to make of man what we have made of the horse and the ox: his chattel, his servant and his food, by the mere exercise of his will. Woe to us.”

Tamahome should read some H.P. Lovecraft, here’s H.P. Lovecraft’s description of The Horla:

“Relating the advent in France of an invisible being who lives on water and milk, sways the minds of others, and seems to be the vanguard of a horde of extra-terrestrial organisms arrived on earth to subjugate and overwhelm mankind, this tense narrative is perhaps without peer in its particular department.”

Lovecraft is using deep time to scare us instead of the supernatural, The Statement Of Randolph Carter, sorry I cant talk right now I’m being digested, Cthulhu’s guest appearance on South Park, the elements, space butterfly,

“We are so weak, so powerless, so ignorant, so small — we who live on this particle of mud which revolves in liquid air.”

a cosmic view, the Carl Sagan view, evil is everywhere, an allegory for science, Frankenstein, “men ought not meddle in affairs normally deemed to women”, the Frankensteinian monster, a warning against science vs. science is our only way of understanding the universe, we have one place to look and that is to science, the propaganda he’s pushing, “there are things we can’t explain”, gentlemen did science back then, Library Of The World’s Best Mystery And Detective Stories on Wikisource, the case of my body being haunted, Edgar Allan Poe, Diary Of A Madman, turn us into batteries, “this is a looking glass”, the main character holding a photograph of himself, foreshadowing, out of body experience, Tama fails the quiz of the lesson earlier, when we don’t know – don’t conclude, we ought not conclude anything from this scene, we are not supposed to know we know the answer, Harvey Keitel’s appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio, becoming comfortable with the unknown, The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jesse proceeds to recount the entire plot of The Necklace, like a really sad O. Henry story, Somerset Maugham, Henry James, A String Of Beads, “Mais oui.”

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant - illustration by Julian-Damazy

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant - illustration by Julian-Damazy

Posted by Jesse Willis

A Piece Of String by Guy de Maupassant (as read by Stefan Rudnicki)

Aural Noir: Online Audio

Here’s a really thoughtful short crime story that I think my Catholic friends will especially enjoy (it’s good and it’s pretty hard to find a good audio edition). Though some have classified it as humorous it has plenty of depth (they must be thinking it is a black comedy). It follows in the tradition of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and may remind you of later works like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. In the paperbook translation where I first read it, the title was A Piece Of Yarn. This is not a literal translation of the French (“La Ficelle“) but is actually about ten times better than A Piece Of String (for reasons which are clearer after reading the entire tale). And as an added bonus there’s probably not a better American accented narrator for this story than Stefan Rudnicki. Enjoy!

A Piece Of String by Guy de MaupassantA Piece Of String (aka A Piece Of Yarn)
By Guy de Maupassant; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
1 |MP3| – Approx. 17 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Redwood Audiobooks (Listen To Genius)
Published: 2008
Source: ListenToGenius.com
A thrifty hand, a shrewd eye and a good story are universally loved by the prideful farmers of Normandy. But Maître Hauchecome soon finds himself in a epistemological struggle between his word, his reputation and his story.

The full text of the tale follows below:

A Piece Of String
By Guy de Maupassant

Along all the roads around Goderville the peasants and their wives were coming toward the burgh because it was market day. The men were proceeding with slow steps, the whole body bent forward at each movement of their long twisted legs; deformed by their hard work, by the weight on the plow which, at the same time, raised the left shoulder and swerved the figure, by the reaping of the wheat which made the knees spread to make a firm “purchase,” by all the slow and painful labors of the country. Their blouses, blue, “stiff-starched,” shining as if varnished, ornamented with a little design in white at the neck and wrists, puffed about their bony bodies, seemed like balloons ready to carry them off. From each of them two feet protruded.

Some led a cow or a calf by a cord, and their wives, walking behind the animal, whipped its haunches with a leafy branch to hasten its progress. They carried large baskets on their arms from which, in some cases, chickens and, in others, ducks thrust out their heads. And they walked with a quicker, livelier step than their husbands. Their spare straight figures were wrapped in a scanty little shawl pinned over their flat bosoms, and their heads were enveloped in a white cloth glued to the hair and surmounted by a cap.

Then a wagon passed at the jerky trot of a nag, shaking strangely, two men seated side by side and a woman in the bottom of the vehicle, the latter holding onto the sides to lessen the hard jolts.

In the public square of Goderville there was a crowd, a throng of human beings and animals mixed together. The horns of the cattle, the tall hats, with long nap, of the rich peasant and the headgear of the peasant women rose above the surface of the assembly. And the clamorous, shrill, screaming voices made a continuous and savage din which sometimes was dominated by the robust lungs of some countryman’s laugh or the long lowing of a cow tied to the wall of a house.

All that smacked of the stable, the dairy and the dirt heap, hay and sweat, giving forth that unpleasant odor, human and animal, peculiar to the people of the field.

Maître Hauchecome of Breaute had just arrived at Goderville, and he was directing his steps toward the public square when he perceived upon the ground a little piece of string. Maître Hauchecome, economical like a true Norman, thought that everything useful ought to be picked up, and he bent painfully, for he suffered from rheumatism. He took the bit of thin cord from the ground and began to roll it carefully when he noticed Maître Malandain, the harness maker, on the threshold of his door, looking at him. They had heretofore had business together on the subject of a halter, and they were on bad terms, both being good haters. Maître Hauchecome was seized with a sort of shame to be seen thus by his enemy, picking a bit of a head. two arms and string out of the dirt. He concealed his “find” quickly under his blouse, then in his trousers’ pocket; then he pretended to be still looking on the ground for something which he did not find, and he went toward the market, his head forward, bent double by his pains.

He was soon lost in the noisy and slowly moving crowd which was busy with interminable bargainings. The peasants milked, went and came, perplexed, always in fear of being cheated, not daring to decide, watching the vender’s eye, ever trying to find the trick in the man and the flaw in the beast.

The women, having placed their great baskets at their feet, had taken out the poultry which lay upon the ground, tied together by the feet, with terrified eyes and scarlet crests.

They heard offers, stated their prices with a dry air and impassive face, or perhaps, suddenly deciding on some proposed reduction, shouted to the customer who was slowly going away: “All right, Maître Authirne, I’ll give it to you for that.”

Then lime by lime the square was deserted, and the Angelus ringing at noon, those who had stayed too long scattered to their shops.

At Jourdain’s the great room was full of people eating, as the big court was full of vehicles of all kinds, carts, gigs, wagons, dumpcarts, yellow with dirt, mended and patched, raising their shafts to the sky like two arms or perhaps with their shafts in the ground and their backs in the air.

Just opposite the diners seated at the table the immense fireplace, filled with bright flames, cast a lively heat on the backs of the row on the right. Three spits were turning on which were chickens, pigeons and legs of mutton, and an appetizing odor of roast beef and gravy dripping over the nicely browned skin rose from the hearth, increased the jovialness and made everybody’s mouth water.

All the aristocracy of the plow ate there at Maître Jourdain’s, tavern keeper and horse dealer, a rascal who had money.

The dishes were passed and emptied, as were the jugs of yellow cider. Everyone told his affairs, his purchases and sales. They discussed the crops. The weather was favorable for the green things but not for the wheat.

Suddenly the drum beat in the court before the house. Everybody rose, except a few indifferent persons, and ran to the door or to the windows, their mouths still full and napkins in their hands.

After the public crier had ceased his drumbeating he called out in a jerky voice, speaking his phrases irregularly:

“It is hereby made known to the inhabitants of Goderville, and in general to all persons present at the market, that there was lost this morning on the road to Benzeville, between nine and ten o’clock, a black leather pocketbook containing five hundred francs and some business papers. The finder is requested to return same with all haste to the mayor’s office or to Maître Fortune Houlbreque of Manneville; there will be twenty francs reward.”

Then the man went away. The heavy roll of the drum and the crier’s voice were again heard at a distance.

Then they began to talk of this event, discussing the chances that Maître Houlbreque had of finding or not finding his pocketbook.

And the meal concluded. They were finishing their coffee when a chief of the gendarmes appeared upon the threshold.

He inquired:

“Is Maître Hauchecome of Breaute here?”

Maître Hauchecome, seated at the other end of the table, replied:

“Here I am.”

And the officer resumed:

“Maître Hauchecome, will you have the goodness to accompany me to the mayor’s office? The mayor would like to talk to you.”

The peasant, surprised and disturbed, swallowed at a draught his tiny glass of brandy, rose and, even more bent than in the morning, for the first steps after each rest were specially difficult, set out, repeating: “Here I am, here I am.”

The mayor was awaiting him, seated on an armchair. He was the notary of the vicinity, a stout, serious man with pompous phrases.

“Maître Hauchecome,” said he, “you were seen this morning to pick up, on the road to Benzeville, the pocketbook lost by Maître Houlbreque of Manneville.”

The countryman, astounded, looked at the mayor, already terrified by this suspicion resting on him without his knowing why.

“Me? Me? Me pick up the pocketbook?”

“Yes, you yourself.”

“Word of honor, I never heard of it.”

“But you were seen.”

“I was seen, me? Who says he saw me?”

“Monsieur Malandain, the harness maker.”

The old man remembered, understood and flushed with anger.

“Ah, he saw me, the clodhopper, he saw me pick up this string here, M’sieu the Mayor.” And rummaging in his pocket, he drew out the little piece of string.

But the mayor, incredulous, shook his head.

“You will not make me believe, Maître Hauchecome, that Monsieur Malandain, who is a man worthy of credence, mistook this cord for a pocketbook.”

The peasant, furious, lifted his hand, spat at one side to attest his honor, repeating:

“It is nevertheless the truth of the good God, the sacred truth, M’sieu the Mayor. I repeat it on my soul and my salvation.”

The mayor resumed:

“After picking up the object you stood like a stilt, looking a long while in the mud to see if any piece of money had fallen out.”

The good old man choked with indignation and fear.

“How anyone can tell—how anyone can tell—such lies to take away an honest man’s reputation! How can anyone—-”

There was no use in his protesting; nobody believed him. He was con.

fronted with Monsieur Malandain, who repeated and maintained his affirmation. They abused each other for an hour. At his own request Maître Hauchecome was searched; nothing was found on him.

Finally the mayor, very much perplexed, discharged him with the warning that he would consult the public prosecutor and ask for further orders.

The news had spread. As he left the mayor’s office the old man was sun rounded and questioned with a serious or bantering curiosity in which there was no indignation. He began to tell the story of the string. No one believed him. They laughed at him.

He went along, stopping his friends, beginning endlessly his statement and his protestations, showing his pockets turned inside out to prove that he had nothing.

They said:

“Old rascal, get out!”

And he grew angry, becoming exasperated, hot and distressed at not

being believed, not knowing what to do and always repeating himself.

Night came. He must depart. He started on his way with three neighbors to whom he pointed out the place where he had picked up the bit of string, and all along the road he spoke of his adventure.

In the evening he took a turn in the village of Breaute in order to tell it to everybody. He only met with incredulity.

It made him ill at night.

The next day about one o’clock in the afternoon Marius Paumelle, a hired man in the employ of Maître Breton, husbandman at Ymanville, returned the pocketbook and its contents to Maître Houlbreque of Manneville.

This man claimed to have found the object in the road, but not knowing how to read, he had carried it to the house and given it to his employer.

The news spread through the neighborhood. Maître Hauchecome was informed of it. He immediately went the circuit and began to recount his story completed by the happy climax. He was in triumph.

“What grieved me so much was not the thing itself as the lying. There is nothing so shameful as to be placed under a cloud on account of a lie.”

He talked of his adventure all day long; he told it on the highway to people who were passing by, in the wineshop to people who were drinking there and to persons coming out of church the following Sunday. He stopped strangers to tell them about it. He was calm now, and yet something disturbed him without his knowing exactly what it was. People had the air of joking while they listened. They did not seem convinced. He seemed to feel that remarks were being made behind his back.

On Tuesday of the next week he went to the market at Goderville, urged solely by the necessity he felt of discussing the case.

Malandain, standing at his door, began to laugh on seeing him pass. Why?

He approached a farmer from Crequetot who did not let him finish and, giving him a thump in the stomach, said to his face:

“You big rascal.”

Then he turned his back on him.

Maître Hauchecome was confused; why was he called a big rascal?

When he was seated at the table in Jourdain’s tavern he commenced to explain “the affair.”

A horse dealer from Monvilliers called to him:

“Come, come, old sharper, that’s an old trick; I know all about your piece of string!”

Hauchecome stammered:

“But since the pocketbook was found.”

But the other man replied:

“Shut up, papa, there is one that finds and there is one that reports. At any rate you are mixed with it.”

The peasant stood choking. He understood. They accused him of having had the pocketbook returned by a confederate, by an accomplice.

He tried to protest. All the table began to laugh.

He could not finish his dinner and went away in the midst of jeers.

He went home ashamed and indignant, choking with anger and confusion, the more dejected that he was capable, with his Norman cunning, of doing what they had accused him of and ever boasting of it as of a good turn. His innocence to him, in a confused way, was impossible to prove, as his sharpness was known. And he was stricken to the heart by the injustice of the suspicion.

Then he began to recount the adventures again, prolonging his history every day, adding each time new reasons, more energetic protestations, more solemn oaths which he imagined and prepared in his hours of solitude, his whole mind given up to the story of the string. He was believed so much the less as his defense was more complicated and his arguing more subtile.

“Those are lying excuses,” they said behind his back.

He felt it, consumed his heart over it and wore himself out with useless efforts. He wasted away before their very eyes.

The wags now made him tell about the string to amuse them, as they make a soldier who has been on a campaign tell about his battles. His mind, touched to the depth, began to weaken.

Toward the end of December he took to his bed.

He died in the first days of January, and in the delirium of his death struggles he kept claiming his innocence, reiterating:

“A piece of string, a piece of string—look—here it is, M’sieu the Mayor.”

Posted by Jesse Willis