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Stories of Fatherhood (Everyman's Pocket Classics)by Diana Secker Tesdell
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Excerpted from Simon’s Father
By Guy de Maupassant, translated by Ernest Boyd
Noon had just struck. The school-door opened and the youngsters streamed out tumbling over one another in their haste to get out quickly. But instead of promptly dispersing and going home to dinner as was their daily wont, they stopped a few paces off, broke up into knots and set to whispering.
The fact was that that morning Simon, the son of La Blanchotte, had, for the first time, attended school. They had all of them in their families heard of La Blanchotte; and although in public she was welcome enough, the mothers among themselves treated her with compassion of a somewhat disdainful kind, which the children had caught without in the least knowing why.
As for Simon himself, they did not know him, for he never went abroad, and did not play around with them through the streets of the village or along the banks of the river. So they did not like him much, and it was with a certain delight, mingled with astonishment, that they gathered in groups this morning, repeating to each other this phrase pronounced by a lad of fourteen or fifteen who appeared to know all about it, so sagaciously did he wink: ‘You know Simon – well, he has no father.’
La Blanchotte’s son appeared in his turn upon the threshold of the school.
He was seven or eight years old, rather pale, very neat, with a timid and almost awkward manner.
He was making his way back to his mother’s house when the various groups of his schoolfellows, perpetually whispering, and watching him with the mischievous and heartless eyes of children bent upon playing a nasty trick, gradually surrounded him and ended by enclosing him altogether. There he stood amongst them, surprised and embarrassed, not understanding what they were going to do to him. But the lad who had brought the news, puffed up with the success he had met with, demanded:
‘What is your name?’
He answered: ‘Simon.’
‘Simon what?’ retorted the other.
The child, altogether bewildered, repeated: ‘Simon.’
The lad shouted at him: ‘You must be named Simon something! That is not a name – Simon indeed!’
And he, on the brink of tears, replied for the third time:
‘My name is Simon.’
The urchins began laughing. The lad triumphantly lifted up his voice: ‘You can see plainly that he has no father.’
A deep silence ensued. The children were dumbfounded by this extraordinary, impossibly monstrous thing – a boy who had no father; they looked upon him as a phenomenon, an unnatural being, and they felt rising in them the hitherto inexplicable pity of their mothers for La Blanchotte. As for Simon, he had propped himself against a tree to avoid falling, and he stood there as if paralysed by an irreparable disaster. He sought to explain, but he could think of no answer for them, no way to deny this horrible charge that he had no father. At last he shouted at them quite recklessly:
‘Yes, I have one.’
‘Where is he?’ demanded the boy.
Simon was silent, he did not know. The children shrieked, tremendously excited. These sons of the soil, more animal than human, experienced the cruel craving which makes the fowls of a farmyard destroy one of their own kind as soon as it is wounded. Simon suddenly spied a little neighbour, the son of a widow, whom he had always seen, as he himself was to be seen, quite alone with his mother.
‘And no more have you,’ he said, ‘no more have you a father.’
‘Yes,’ replied the other, ‘I have one.’
‘Where is he?’ rejoined Simon.
‘He is dead,’ declared the brat with superb dignity, ‘he is in the cemetery, is my father.’
A murmur of approval rose amid the scapegraces, as if the fact of possessing a father dead in a cemetery made their comrade big enough to crush the other one who had no father at all. And these rogues, whose fathers were for the most part evil-doers, drunkards, thieves, and harsh with their wives, hustled each other as they pressed closer and closer to Simon as though they, the legitimate ones, would stifle in their pressure one who was beyond the law.
The lad next to Simon suddenly put his tongue out at him with a waggish air and shouted at him:
‘No father! No father!’
Simon seized him by the hair with both hands and set to work to kick his legs while he bit his cheek ferociously. A tremendous struggle ensued. The two boys were separated and Simon found himself beaten, torn, bruised, rolled on the ground in the middle of the ring of applauding little vagabonds. As he arose, mechanically brushing his little blouse all covered with dust with his hand, someone shouted at him:
‘Go and tell your father.’
He then felt a great sinking in his heart. They were stronger than he, they had beaten him and he had no answer to give them, for he knew it was true that he had no father.
Full of pride he tried for some moments to struggle against the tears which were suffocating him. He had a choking fit, and then without cries he began to weep with great sobs which shook him incessantly. Then a ferocious joy broke out among his enemies, and, just like savages in fearful festivals, they took one another by the hand and danced in a circle about him as they repeated in refrain:
‘No father! No father!’
But suddenly Simon ceased sobbing. Frenzy overtook him. There were stones under his feet; he picked them up and with all his strength hurled them at his tormentors. Two or three were struck and ran away yelling, and so formidable did he appear that the rest became panic-stricken. Cowards, like a jeering crowd in the presence of an exasperated man, they broke up and fled. Left alone, the little thing without a father set off running toward the fields, for a recollection had been awakened which nerved his soul to a great determination.
He made up his mind to drown himself in the river.
He remembered, in fact, that eight days ago a poor devil who begged for his livelihood had thrown himself into the water because he was destitute. Simon had been there when they fished him out again; and the sight of the fellow, who had seemed to him so miserable and ugly, had then impressed him – his pale cheeks, his long drenched beard, and his open eyes being full of calm. The bystanders had said:
‘He is dead.’
And some one had added:
‘He is quite happy now.’
So Simon wished to drown himself also because he had no father, just as the wretched man did who had no money. He reached the water and watched it flowing. Some fishes were rising briskly in the clear stream and occasionally made little leaps and caught the flies on the surface. He stopped crying in order to watch them, for their feeding interested him vastly. But, at intervals, as in the lulls of a tempest, when tremendous gusts of wind snap off trees and then die away, this thought would return to him with intense pain:
‘I am about to drown myself because I have no father.’
It was very warm and lovely. The pleasant sunshine warmed the grass; the water shone like a mirror; and Simon enjoyed for some minutes the happiness of that languor which follows weeping, desirous even of falling asleep there upon the grass in the warmth of noon.
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