Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 13 HTML version

The Little Cask
He was a tall man of forty or thereabout, this Jules Chicot, the innkeeper of Spreville,
with a red face and a round stomach, and said by those who knew him to be a smart
business man. He stopped his buggy in front of Mother Magloire's farmhouse, and,
hitching the horse to the gatepost, went in at the gate.
Chicot owned some land adjoining that of the old woman, which he had been coveting
for a long while, and had tried in vain to buy a score of times, but she had always
obstinately refused to part with it.
"I was born here, and here I mean to die," was all she said.
He found her peeling potatoes outside the farmhouse door. She was a woman of about
seventy-two, very thin, shriveled and wrinkled, almost dried up in fact and much bent but
as active and untiring as a girl. Chicot patted her on the back in a friendly fashion and
then sat down by her on a stool.
"Well mother, you are always pretty well and hearty, I am glad to see."
"Nothing to complain of, considering, thank you. And how are you, Monsieur Chicot?"
"Oh, pretty well, thank you, except a few rheumatic pains occasionally; otherwise I have
nothing to complain of."
"So much the better."
And she said no more, while Chicot watched her going on with her work. Her crooked,
knotted fingers, hard as a lobster's claws, seized the tubers, which were lying in a pail, as
if they had been a pair of pincers, and she peeled them rapidly, cutting off long strips of
skin with an old knife which she held in the other hand, throwing the potatoes into the
water as they were done. Three daring fowls jumped one after the other into her lap,
seized a bit of peel and then ran away as fast as their legs would carry them with it in
their beak.
Chicot seemed embarrassed, anxious, with something on the tip of his tongue which he
could not say. At last he said hurriedly:
"Listen, Mother Magloire--"
"Well, what is it?"
"You are quite sure that you do not want to sell your land?"