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.
He was at once lost in the crowd, which kept moving about slowly and noisily
as it chaffered and bargained. The peasants examined the cows, went off, came back, always in doubt for fear of being cheated,
never quite daring to decide, looking the seller square in the eye in the effort to discover the tricks of the man and the
defect in the beast.
"Be it known to the inhabitants of Goderville and in general to all persons
present at the market that there has been lost this morning on the Beuzeville road, between nine and , a black leather pocketbook containing five hundred francs and business papers. You are requested
to return it to the mayor's office at once or to Maitre Fortune Houlbreque, of Manneville. There will be twenty francs reward."
"Maitre Hauchecorne," said he, "this morning on the Beuzeville road, you were seen
to pick up the pocketbook lost by Maitre Houlbreque, of Manneville."
The countryman looked at the mayor in amazement frightened already at this
suspicion which rested on him, he knew not why.
The news had spread. When he left the mayor's office the old man was surrounded, interrogated with a curiosity
which was serious or mocking, as the case might be, but into which no indignation entered. And he began to tell the story
of the string. They did not believe him. They laughed.
He passed on, buttonholed by every one, himself buttonholing his acquaintances,
beginning over and over again his tale and his protestations, showing his pockets turned inside out to prove that he had nothing
Jokers would make him tell the story of "the piece of string" to amuse them, just
as you make a soldier who has been on a campaign tell his story of the battle. His mind kept growing weaker and about the
end of December he took to his bed.
He passed away early in January, and, in the ravings of death agony, he protested
his innocence, repeating:
"A little bit of string--a little bit of string. See, here it is, M'sieu le