Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 4
It was yesterday, the 31st of December.
I had just finished breakfast with my old friend Georges Garin when the servant handed
him a letter covered with seals and foreign stamps.
"Will you excuse me?"
And so he began to read the letter, which was written in a large English handwriting,
crossed and recrossed in every direction. He read them slowly, with serious attention and
the interest which we only pay to things which touch our hearts.
Then he put the letter on the mantelpiece and said:
"That was a curious story! I've never told you about it, I think. Yet it was a sentimental
adventure, and it really happened to me. That was a strange New Year's Day, indeed! It
must have been twenty years ago, for I was then thirty and am now fifty years old.
"I was then an inspector in the Maritime Insurance Company, of which I am now
director. I had arranged to pass New Year's Day in Paris--since it is customary to make
that day a fete--when I received a letter from the manager, asking me to proceed at once
to the island of Re, where a three- masted vessel from Saint-Nazaire, insured by us, had
just been driven ashore. It was then eight o'clock in the morning. I arrived at the office at
ten to get my advices, and that evening I took the express, which put me down in La
Rochelle the next day, the 31st of December.
"I had two hours to wait before going aboard the boat for Re. So I made a tour of the
town. It is certainly a queer city, La Rochelle, with strong characteristics of its own
streets tangled like a labyrinth, sidewalks running under endless arcaded galleries like
those of the Rue de Rivoli, but low, mysterious, built as if to form a suitable setting for
conspirators and making a striking background for those old-time wars, the savage heroic
wars of religion. It is indeed the typical old Huguenot city, conservative, discreet, with no
fine art to show, with no wonderful monuments, such as make Rouen; but it is
remarkable for its severe, somewhat sullen look; it is a city of obstinate fighters, a city
where fanaticism might well blossom, where the faith of the Calvinists became
enthusiastic and which gave birth to the plot of the 'Four Sergeants.'
"After I had wandered for some time about these curious streets, I went aboard the black,
rotund little steamboat which was to take me to the island of Re. It was called the Jean