Lesson No. 5
The Piece of String
(Guy De Maupassant)
T the end of market day, the rich people with vehicles of all kinds, carts, gigs, wagons, dumpcarts gathered at a great big hall for a great meal.
There were chickens pigeons and legs of mutton in the roast and an appetizing odour of roast, beef. Leaf and gravy dripping over the browned skin, which increased the appetite and made everybody’s mouth water. Everyone told him affairs, his purchases and sales. The diners discussed the crops and the weather which was favorable for the green things but not for wheat. Suddenly, at the sound of drum beat in the court everybody rose from the seats except a few ones who still had the food in their hands. After the drum beat had ceased, the drumbeater called out the public announcement. “It is hereby made known to the inhabitants of this place and in general to all persons in the market that a black leather pocketbook containing five hundred shilling and some business papers was lost on the road between 9.00 and 10.00 in the morning. The finder is requested to return the same to the mayor’s office or to Mr. James, the caretaker of this public hall. There will be a reward of 20 shillings”.
After the meal had concluded the Chief of the police appeared on the scene. He inquired, “Is Mr. Hubert here?” Mr. Hubert seated at another and of the table replied, “Here I am.” The police officer went up to him and said. “Mr. Hubert, will you please accompany me to the mayor’s office, the mayor would like to talk to you.”
Mr. Hubert surprised and disturbed, followed the police officer. The mayor, a stout serious man, was waiting for Hubert. “Mr. Hubert,” he said, “You were seen this morning to pick up the pocketbook lost by Mr. James.” Mr. Hubert, the simple countryman looked at the mayor astounded and already terrified by the suspicion resting on him. “Why, Me? Me? Me picked up the pocketbook?” “Yes, you yourself”. “By my word of honour I never heard of it.” “But you were seen.”
“I was seen with the pocketbook? Who saw me?”. “Mr. Manana, the harness man saw you pick up the pocketbook.”
Mr. Hubert, the old man, remembered, understood and flushed with anger.
“O, him! Yes! He saw me pick up this string here.” And as he said so, he drew out the little piece of string from his pocket.
But the mayor shook his head and said. “You will not make me believe that Mr. Manana, who is a man of worthy credence, mistook the cord for a pocketbook.”
Mr. Hubert, the peasant furiously lifted his hand, spat at one side to attest his honour, and said in the most exasperating tone, “It is, nevertheless, truth of the good God, the sacred truth. I repeat it on my soul and my salvation.”
“After picking up the object, you stood there, looking a long while in the mud to see if any money had fallen out.”
The good soul. Mr. Hubert choked with indignation and fear.
“How anyone can tell such lies to take away an honest man’s reputation. How can anyone …………..”
There was no use of Mr. Hubert’s protesting, for nobody believed him. Mr. Manana repeatedly maintained that Hubert had picked up the pocketbook. For an hour both men abused each other. Then at his own request, Mr. Hubert was searched. Nothing was found on him.
Finally the Mayor discharged Hubert with warning that he would consult the public prosecutor and ask for further orders.
As he left the Mayor’s office. People surrounded and questioned him with serious curiosity. Nobody believed his story of the string. Instead people laughed at him.
Mr. Hubert went along stopping his friends giving them his statement and presentation, turning has pocket inside out to prove that he had nothing. All they said was, “You old rascal! Get out of here! ”.
Mr. Hubert went to the village telling every man he knew about his adventure, but he only met with incredulity. It all made him ill. The next day in the afternoon a man named George returned the pocketbook and its contents to Mr. James the owner of the pocketbook.
George claimed to have found the pocketbook on the road to the village market, but not knowing how to read he had given it to him employer.
The news spread like fire in the neighborhood. Mr. Hubert was also informed. He was in triumph.
“What grieyed me as much was not the thing itself – as the lying. There is nothing so shameful as to be called a liar.”
Whatever reasons he gave, people were not willing to be believe him. “Those are lying excuses.” They said behind his back.
Hubert felt this shame and disgrace to his self esteem and character. He consumed his heart over this and wasted away before the very eyes of the people.
People started to tell the story of the string to amuse themselves and told it in a manner of soldier who had been on a campaign and told about his battles. Hubert’s mind touched to the depth began to weaken day by day.
Towards the end of the month he took to his bed. He died in the first week of the following month.
In the delirium of his death struggles he kept claiming his innocence, reiterating.
“A piece of string, a piece of string! By my word of honour I did not lie.”
And he died.
It is said that a great flood in its great wrath carried away the people and all their belongings.
The grave of Hubert withstood the havoc of the flood.
It was engraved on him tomb stone, years after his death, “Here lies a man who told noting but truth. Here lies the man who would not prove his innocence, but the flood proved it – !.”