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THE FTE AT COQUEVILLE

By Emile Zola

Translated by L. G. Meyer.

Copyright, 1907, by P. F. Collier & Son




I

Coqueville is a little village planted in a cleft in the rocks, two
leagues from Grandport. A fine sandy beach stretches in front of the
huts lodged half-way up in the side of the cliff like shells left there
by the tide. As one climbs to the heights of Grandport, on the left the
yellow sheet of sand can be very clearly seen to the west like a river
of gold dust streaming from the gaping cleft in the rock; and with good
eyes one can even distinguish the houses, whose tones of rust spot the
rock and whose chimneys send up their bluish trails to the very crest
of the great slope, streaking the sky. It is a deserted hole. Coqueville
has never been able to attain to the figure of two hundred inhabitants.
The gorge which opens into the sea, and on the threshold of which the
village is planted, burrows into the earth by turns so abrupt and
by descents so steep that it is almost impossible to pass there with
wagons. It cuts off all communication and isolates the country so that
one seems to be a hundred leagues from the neighboring hamlets.

Moreover, the inhabitants have communication with Grandport only by
water. Nearly all of them fishermen, living by the ocean, they carry
their fish there every day in their barks. A great commission house, the
firm of Dufeu, buys their fish on contract. The father Dufeu has been
dead some years, but the widow Dufeu has continued the business; she
has simply engaged a clerk, M. Mouchel, a big blond devil, charged with
beating up the coast and dealing with the fishermen. This M. Mouchel is
the sole link between Coque-ville and the civilized world.

Coqueville merits a historian. It seems certain that the village, in
the night of time, was founded by the Mahs; a family which happened to
establish itself there and which grew vigorous at the foot of the cliff.
These Mahs continued to prosper at first, marrying continually among
themselves, for during centuries one finds none but Mahs there. Then
under Louis XIII appeared one Floche. No one knew too much of where
he came from.. He married a Mah, and from that time a phenomenon
was brought forth; the Floches in their turn prospered and multiplied
exceedingly, so that they ended little by little in absorbing the Mahs,
whose numbers diminished until their fortune passed entirely into the
hands of the newcomers. Without doubt, the Floches brought new blood,
more vigorous physical organs, a temperament which adapted itself better
to that hard condition of high wind and of high sea. At any rate, they
are to-day masters of Coqueville.

It can easily be understood that this displacement of numbers and of
riches was not accomplished without terrible disturbances. The Mahs and
the Hoches detest each other. Between them is a hatred of centuries. The
Mahs in spite of their decline retain the pride of ancient conquerors.
After all they are the founders, the ancestors. They speak with contempt
of the first Floche, a beggar, a vagabond picked up by them from
feelings of pity, and to have given away one of their daughters to
whom was their eternal regret. This Floche, to hear them speak, had
engendered nothing but a descent of libertines and thieves, who pass
their nights in raising children and their days in coveting legacies.
And there is not an insult they do not heap upon the powerful tribe of
Floche, seized with that bitter rage of nobles, decimated, ruined, who
see the spawn of the bourgeoisie master of their rents and of their
chteau. The Floches, on their side, naturally have the insolence of
those who triumph. They are in full possession, a thing to make them
insolent. Full of contempt for the ancient race of the Mahs, they
threaten to drive them from the village if they do not bow their heads.
To them they are starvelings, who instead of draping themselves in their
rags would do much better to mend them.

So Coqueville finds itself a prey to two fierce factions--something like
one hundred and thirty inhabitants bent upon devouring the other fifty
for the simple reason that they are the stronger.

The struggle between two great empires has no other history.

Among the quarrels which have lately upset Coqueville, they cite the
famous enmity of the brothers, Fouasse and Tupain, and the ringing
battles of the Rouget mnage. You must know that every inhabitant in
former days received a surname, which has become to-day the regular name
of the family; for it was difficult to distinguish one's self among the
cross-breedings of the Mahs and the Floches. Rouget assuredly had an
ancestor of fiery blood. As for Fouasse and Tupain, they were called
thus without knowing why, many surnames having lost all rational meaning
in course of time. Well, old Franoise, a wanton of eighty years who
lived forever, had had Fouasse by a Mah, then becoming a widow, she
remarried with a Floche and brought forth Tupain. Hence the hatred of
the two brothers, made specially lively by the question of inheritance.
At the Rouget's they beat each other to a jelly because Rouget accused
his wife, Marie, of being unfaithful to him for a Floche, the tall
Brisemotte, a strong, dark man, on whom he had already twice thrown
himself with a knife, yelling that he would rip open his belly. Rouget,
a small, nervous man, was a great spitfire.

But that which interested Coqueville most deeply was neither the
tantrums of Rouget nor the differences between Tupain and Fouasse. A
great rumor circulated: Delphin, a Mah, a rascal of twenty years, dared
to love the beautiful Margot, the daughter of La Queue, the richest of
the Floches and chief man of the country. This La Queue was, in truth, a
considerable personage. They called him La Queue because his father, in
the days of Louis Philippe, had been the last to tie up his hair, with
the obstinacy of old age that clings to the fashions of its youth. Well,
then, La Queue owned one of the two large fishing smacks of Coqueville,
the "Zephir," by far the best, still quite new and seaworthy. The other
big boat, the "Baleine," a rotten old patache, {1} belonged to Rouget,
whose sailors were Delphin and Fouasse, while La Queue took with
him Tupain and Brisemotte. These last had grown weary of laughing
contemptuously at the "Baleine"; a sabot, they said, which would
disappear some fine day under the billows like a handful of mud. So when
La Queue learned that that ragamuffin of a Delphin, the froth of the
"Baleine," allowed himself to go prowling around his daughter, he
delivered two sound whacks at Margot, a trifle merely to warn her that
she should never be the wife of a Mah. As a result, Margot, furious,
declared that she would pass that pair of slaps on to Delphin if he ever
ventured to rub against her skirts. It was vexing to be boxed on the
ears for a boy whom she had never looked in the face!

1 Naval term signifying a rickety old concern.

Margot, at sixteen years strong as a man and handsome as a lady, had
the reputation of being a scornful person, very hard on lovers. And from
that, added to the trifle of the two slaps, of the presumptuousness of
Delphin, and of the wrath of Margot, one ought easily to comprehend the
endless gossip of Coqueville.

Notwithstanding, certain persons said that Margot, at bottom, was not so
very furious at sight of Delphin circling around her. This Delphin was
a little blonde, with skin bronzed by the sea-glare, and with a mane of
curly hair that fell over his eyes and in his neck. And very powerful
despite his slight figure; quite capable of thrashing any one three
times his size. They said that at times he ran away and passed the night
in Grandport. That gave him the reputation of a werwolf with the girls,
who accused him, among themselves, of "making a life of it"--a vague
expression in which they included all sorts of unknown pleasures.
Margot, when she spoke of Delphin, betrayed too much feeling. He,
smiling with an artful air, looked at her with eyes half shut and
glittering, without troubling himself the least in the world over her
scorn or her transports of passion. He passed before her door, he
glided along by the bushes watching for her hours at a time, full of the
patience and the I cunning of a cat lying in wait for a tomtit; and when
suddenly she discovered him behind her skirts, so close to her at times
that she guessed it by the warmth of his breath, he did not fly, he took
on an air gentle and melancholy which left her abashed, stifled, not
regaining her wrath until he was some distance away. Surely, if her
father saw her he would smite her again. But she boasted in vain that
Delphin would some day get that pair of slaps she had promised him;
she never seized the moment to apply them when he was there; which made
people say that she ought not to talk so much, since in the end she kept
the slaps herself.

No one, however, supposed she could ever be Delphin's wife. In her case
they saw the weakness of a coquette. As for a marriage between the
most beggardly of the Mahs, a fellow who had not six shirts to set up
housekeeping with, and the daughter of the mayor, the richest heiress of
the Floches, it would seem simply monstrous.

Evil tongues insinuated that she could perfectly go with him all the
same, but that she would certainly not marry him. A rich girl takes her
pleasure as it suits her; only, if she has a head, she does not commit a
folly. Finally all Coque-ville interested itself in the matter, curious
to know how things would turn out. Would Delphin get his two slaps? or
else Margot, would she let herself be kissed on both cheeks in some hole
in the cliff? They must see! There were some for the slaps and there
were some for the kisses. Coqueville was in revolution.

In the village two people only, the cur and the _garde champtre?_
belonged neither to the Mahs nor to the Floches. The _garde champtre_,
{2} a tall, dried-up fellow, whose name no one knew, but who was called
the Emperor, no doubt because he had served under Charles X, as a matter
of fact exercised no burdensome supervision over the commune which was
all bare rocks and waste lands.



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