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.
When Maitre Hauchcome picks the string off the ground,
he commits the act that sets the story in motion. The simple act of picking up the piece of string will lead Malandain to
accuse him of stealing the wallet and ultimately, to Hauchcome's death.
It was market-day, and from all the country round Goderville the peasants and their wives were coming toward
the town. The men walked slowly, throwing the whole body forward at every step of their long, crooked legs. They were deformed
from pushing the plough which makes the left- shoulder higher, and bends their figures side-ways; from reaping the grain,
when they have to spread their legs so as to keep on their feet. Their starched blue blouses, glossy as though varnished,
ornamented at collar and cuffs with a little embroidered design and blown out around their bony bodies, looked very much like
balloons about to soar, whence issued two arms and two feet.
Some of these fellows dragged a cow or a calf at the end of a rope. And just behind the animal followed their
wives beating it over the back with a leaf-covered branch to hasten its pace, and carrying large baskets out of which protruded
the heads of chickens or ducks. These women walked more quickly and energetically than the men, with their erect, dried-up
figures, adorned with scanty little shawls pinned over their flat bosoms, and their heads wrapped round with a white cloth,
enclosing the hair and surmounted by a cap.
Now a char-a-banc passed by, jogging along behind a nag and shaking up strangely the two men on the seat,
and the woman at the bottom of the cart who held fast to its sides to lessen the hard jolting.
In the market-place at Goderville was a great crowd, a mingled multitude of men and beasts. The horns of
cattle, the high, long-napped hats of wealthy peasants, the headdresses of the women came to the surface of that sea. And
the sharp, shrill, barking voices made a continuous, wild din, while above it occasionally rose a huge burst of laughter from
the sturdy lungs of a merry peasant or a prolonged bellow from a cow tied fast to the wall of a house.
It all smelled of the stable, of milk, of hay and of perspiration, giving off that half-human, half-animal
odor which is peculiar to country folks.
Maitre Hauchecorne, of Breaute, had just arrived at Goderville and was making his way toward the square when
he perceived on the ground a little piece of string. Maitre Hauchecorne, economical as are all true Normans,
reflected that everything was worth picking up which could be of any use, and he stooped down, but painfully, because he suffered
from rheumatism. He took the bit of thin string from the ground and was carefully preparing to roll it up when he saw Maitre
Malandain, the harness maker, on his doorstep staring at him. They had once had a quarrel about a halter, and they had borne
each other malice ever since. Maitre Hauchecorne was overcome with a sort of shame at being seen by his enemy picking up a
bit of string in the road. He quickly hid it beneath his blouse and then slipped it into his breeches, pocket, then pretended
to be still looking for something on the ground which he did not discover and finally went off toward the market-place, his
head bent forward and his body almost doubled in two by rheumatic pains.
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.
The women, having placed their great baskets at their feet, had taken out the poultry, which lay upon the
ground, their legs tied together, with terrified eyes and scarlet combs.
They listened to propositions, maintaining their prices in a decided manner with an impassive face or perhaps
deciding to accept the smaller price offered, suddenly calling out to the customer who was starting to go away:
"All right, I'll let you have them, Mait' Anthime."
Then, little by little, the square became empty, and when the Angelus struck
those who lived at a distance poured into the inns.
We are getting introduced to the characters and what they look like.
At Jourdain's the great room was filled with eaters, just as the vast court was filled with vehicles of
every sort--wagons, gigs, chars-a- bancs, tilburies, innumerable vehicles which have no name, yellow with mud, misshapen,
pieced together, raising their shafts to heaven like two arms, or it may be with their nose on the ground and their rear in
Just opposite to where the diners were at table the huge fireplace, with its bright flame, gave out a burning
heat on the backs of those who sat at the right. Three spits were turning, loaded with chickens, with pigeons and with joints
of mutton, and a delectable odor of roast meat and of gravy flowing over crisp brown skin arose from the hearth, kindled merriment,
caused mouths to water.
All the aristocracy of the plough were eating there at Mait' Jourdain's, the innkeeper's, a dealer in horses
also and a sharp fellow who had made a great deal of money in his day.
The dishes were passed round, were emptied, as were the jugs of yellow cider. Every one told of his affairs,
of his purchases and his sales. They exchanged news about the crops. The weather was good for greens, but too wet for grain.
Suddenly the drum began to beat in the courtyard before the house. Every one, except some of the most indifferent,
was on their feet at once and ran to the door, to the windows, their mouths full and napkins in their hand.
When the public crier had finished his tattoo he called forth in a jerky voice, pausing in the wrong places:
"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."
Then the man went away. They heard once more at a distance the dull beating of the drum and the faint voice
of the crier. Then they all began to talk of this incident, reckoning up the chances which Maitre Houlbreque had of finding
or of not finding his pocketbook again.
The meal went on. They were finishing their coffee when the corporal of gendarmes appeared on the threshold.
"After you picked up the object in question, you even looked about for some time in the mud to see if a piece
of money had not dropped out of it."
The good man was choking with indignation and fear.
"How can they tell--how can they tell such lies as that to slander an honest man! How can they?"
His protestations were in vain; he was not believed.
He was confronted with M. Malandain, who repeated and sustained his testimony. They railed at one another
for an hour. At his own request Maitre Hauchecorne was searched. Nothing was found on him.
At last the mayor, much perplexed, sent him away, warning him that he would inform the public prosecutor
and ask for orders.
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 in them.
The next day, about one in the afternoon, Marius Paumelle, a farm hand of Maitre Breton, the market gardener
at Ymauville, returned the pocketbook and its contents to Maitre Holbreque, of Manneville.
This man said, indeed, that he had found it on the road, but not knowing how to read, he had carried it home
and given it to his master.
The news spread to the environs. Maitre Hauchecorne was informed. He started off at once and began to relate
his story with the denoument. He was triumphant.
"What grieved me," said he, "was not the thing itself, do you understand, but it was being accused of lying.
Nothing does you so much harm as being in disgrace for lying."
All day he talked of his adventure. He told it on the roads to the people who passed, at the cabaret to the
people who drank and next Sunday when they came out of church. He even stopped strangers to tell them about it. He was easy
now, and yet something worried him without his knowing exactly what it was. People had a joking manner while they listened.
They did not seem convinced. He seemed to feel their remarks behind his back.
On Tuesday of the following week he went to market at Goderville, prompted solely by the need of telling
Malandain, standing on his doorstep, began to laugh as he saw him pass. Why?
He accosted a farmer of Criquetot, who did not let hire finish, and giving him a punch in the pit of the
stomach cried in his face: "Oh, you great rogue!" Then he turned his heel upon him.
Maitre Hauchecorne remained speechless and grew more and more uneasy. Why had they called him "great rogue"?
When seated at table in Jourdain's tavern he began again to explain the whole affair.
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
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 in them.
They do not believe
him so they are interrogating him to see if it works to get him to confess that he stole it. So they try and they try but
it doesn’t work and he tells them that he didn’t steal it but they laugh at him.
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
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 Maire."
Now that he has died there is no reason why they need to do anything to him anymore. Just because he was a liar all
his life they thought that he was lying when he said that he didn’t steal the wallet.