The Works of Guy de Maupassant Volume VIII Part 63
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"Not more than your own, as it is her proper color."
Then after many other questions, it was agreed that the parents should see this girl before coming to any decision and that the young fellow, whose period of services was coming to an end in the course of a month, should bring her to the house in order that they might examine her, and decide by talking the matter over whether or not she was too dark to enter the Boitelle family.
Antoine accordingly announced that on Sunday, the 22nd of May, the day of his discharge, he would start for Tourteville with his sweetheart.
She had put on, for this journey to the house of her lover's parents, her most beautiful and most gaudy clothes, in which yellow, red, and blue were the prevailing colors, so that she had the appearance of one adorned for a national fete.
At the terminus, as they were leaving Havre, people stared at her very much, and Boitelle was proud of giving his arm to a person who commanded so much attention. Then, in the third-class carriage, in which she took a seat by his side, she excited so much astonishment among the peasants that the people in the adjoining compartments got up on their benches to get a look at her, over the wooden partition, which divided the different portions of the carriage from one another.
A child, at sight of her, began to cry with terror, another concealed his face in his mother's apron. Everything went off well, however, up to their arrival at their destination. But, when the train slackened its rate of motion as they drew near Yvetot, Antoine felt ill at ease, as he would have done at an inspection when he did not know his drill-practice. Then, as he put his head out through the carriage door, he recognized, some distance away, his father who was holding the bridle of the horse yoked to a car, and his mother who had made her way to the railed portion of the platform where a number of spectators had gathered.
He stepped out first, gave his hand to his sweetheart, and holding himself erect, as if he were escorting a general, he advanced towards his family.
The mother, on seeing this black lady, in variegated costume in her son's company, remained so stupefied that she could not open her mouth; and the father found it hard to hold the horse, which the engine or the negress caused to rear for some time without stopping.
But Antoine, suddenly seized with the unmingled joy of seeing once more the old people, rushed forward with open arms, embraced his mother, embraced his father, in spite of the nag's fright, and then turning towards his companion, at whom the passengers on the platform stopped to stare with amazement, he proceeded to explain:
"Here she is! I told you that, at first sight, she is an odd piece; but as soon as you know her, in very truth, there's not a better sort in the whole world. Say good-morrow to her without making any pother about it."
Thereupon Mere Boitelle, herself nearly frightened out of her wits, made a sort of curtsey, while the father took off his cap, murmuring:
"I wish you good-luck!"
Then, without further delay, they climbed up on the car, the two women at the lower end on seats, which made them jump up and down, as the vehicle went jolting along the road, and the two men outside on the front seat.
Nobody spoke. Antoine, ill at ease, whistled a barrack-room air; his father lashed the nag; and his mother, from where she sat in the corner, kept casting sly glances at the negress, whose forehead and cheek-bones shone in the sunlight, like well-blacked shoes.
Wishing to break the ice, Antoine turned round.
"Well," said he, "we don't seem inclined to talk."
"We must get time," replied the old woman.
He went on:
"Come! tell us the little story about that hen of yours that laid eight eggs."
It was a funny anecdote of long standing in the family. But, as his mother still remained silent, paralyzed by emotion, he started the talking himself, and narrated, with much laughter on his own part, this memorable adventure. The father, who knew it by heart, brightened at the opening words of the narrative; his wife soon followed his example; and the negress herself, when he reached the drollest part of it, suddenly gave vent to a laugh so noisy, rolling, and torrent-like that the horse, becoming excited, broke into a gallop for a little while.
This served as the introduction to their acquaintanceship. The company at length began to chat.
On reaching the house when they had all alighted, and he had conducted his sweetheart to a room, so that she might take off her dress, to avoid staining it, while she would be preparing a good dish intended to win the old people's affections while appealing to their stomachs, he drew aside his parents, near the door, and with beating heart, asked:
"Well, what do you say now?"
The father said nothing. The mother, less timid, exclaimed:
"She is too black. No, indeed, this is too much for me. It turns my blood."
"That may be, but it is only for the moment."
Then they made their way into the interior of the house, where the good woman was somewhat affected at the spectacle of the negress engaged in cooking. She at once proceeded to assist her, with petticoats tucked up, active in spite of her age.
The meal was an excellent one, very long, very enjoyable. When they had afterwards taken a turn together, Antoine said to his father:
"Well dad, what do you say to this?"
The peasant took care never to compromise himself.
"I have no opinion about it. Ask your mother."
So Antoine went back to his mother, and leading her to the end of the room, said:
"Well mother, what do you think of her?"
"My poor lad, she is really too black. If she were only a little less black, I would not go against you, but this is too much. One would think it was Satan!"
He did not press her, knowing how obstinate the old woman had always been, but he felt a tempest of disappointment sweeping over his heart.
He was turning over his mind what he ought to do, what plan he could devise, surprised, moreover, that she had not conquered them already as she had captivated himself. And they, all four, set out with slow steps through the cornfields, having again relapsed into silence.
Whenever they passed a fence they saw a countryman sitting on the stile, and a group of brats climbed up to stare at them and everyone rushed out into the road to see the "black" whom young Boitelle had brought home with him. At a distance they noticed people scampering across the fields just as when the drum beats to draw public attention to some living phenomenon. Pere and Mere Boitelle, scared by this curiosity, which was exhibited everywhere through the country at their approach, quickened their pace, walking side by side, and leaving far behind their son, when his dark companion asked what his parents thought of her.
He hesitatingly replied that they had not yet made up their minds.
But, on the village-green, people rushed out of all the houses in a flutter of excitement; and, at the sight of the gathering rabble, old Boitelle took to his heels and regained his abode, whilst Antoine, swelling with rage, his sweetheart on his arm, advanced majestically under the staring eyes which opened wide in amazement.
He understood that it was at an end, and there was no hope for him, that he could not marry his negress, she also understood it; and as they drew near the farmhouse they both began to weep. As soon as they had got back to the house, she once more took off her dress to aid the mother in the household duties, and followed her everywhere to the dairy, to the stable, to the hen-house, taking on herself the hardest part of the work, repeating always, "Let me do it Madame Boitelle," so that, when night came on, the old woman, touched but inexorable, said to her son: "She is a good, all the same. 'Tis a pity she is so black; but indeed she is too much so. I couldn't get used to it. She must go back again. She is too, too black!"
And young Boitelle said to his sweetheart:
"She will not consent. She thinks you are too black. You must go back again. I will go with you to the train. No matter--don't fret. I am going to talk to them after you are started."
He then conducted her to the railway-station, still cheering her with hope, and, when he had kissed her, he put her into the train, which he watched as it passed out of sight, his eyes swollen with tears.
In vain did he appeal to the old people. They would never give their consent.
And when he had told this story, which was known all over the country, Antoine Boitelle would always add:
"From that time forward I have had no heart for anything--for anything at all. No trade suited me any longer, and so I became what I am--a nightcart-man."
People would say to him:
"Yet you got married."
"Yes, and I can't say that my wife didn't please me, seeing that I've got fourteen children; but she is not the other one, oh no--certainly not! The other one, mark you, my negress, she had only to give me one glance, and I felt as if I were in Heaven!"
The Works of Guy de Maupassant Volume VIII Part 63
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The Works of Guy de Maupassant Volume VIII Part 63 summary
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