Oleh: niadp | April 4, 2008

Short Story

A Fishing Excursion

Paris was blockaded, desolate, famished. The sparrows were few and anything that was to be had was good to eat.

On a bright morning in January, Mr. Morrisot, a watchmaker by trade, but idler through circumstances, was walking along the boulevard, sad, hungry, with his hand in the pockets of his uniform trousers, when he came face to face with a brother in arm whom be recognized as an old time friend.

Before the war, [1] Morrisot could be seen at daybreak every Sunday, trudging along with the cane in one hand and a tin box on his back. He would take the train to Colombes and walk from there to the Isle of Marante [2] where he would fish until dark.

It was there he had met Mr. Sauvage who kept a little notion store in the Rue Notre Dam de Lorette, a jovial fellow and passionately fond of fishing like him self. A warm friendship had sprung up between these two and they would fish side by side all day, very often without saying a word. Some days, when everything looked fresh and new and the beautiful spring sun gladdened every heart, Mr. Morrisot would exclaim:

“How delightful!” and Mr. Sauvage would answer:

“There is nothing to equal it”.

Then again on a fall evening, when the glorious setting sun spreading its golden mantle on the already tinted leaves, would throw strange shadows around two friends, Sauvage would say:

“What a grand picture!”

“It beats the boulevard!” would answer Morrisot. But they understood each other quite as well without speaking.

The two friends had greeted each other warmly and had resumed their walk side by side, both thinking deeply of the past and present events. They entered a café, and when a glass of absinthe [3] had been placed before each Sauvage sighed:

“What terrible events, my friend!”

“And what weather!” said Morrisot sadly; “This is the nice day we have had this year. Do you remember our fishing excursion?”

“Do I! Alas! When shall we go again?”

After second absinthe they emerged from the café feeling rather dizzy – that light headed affect which alcohol has on an empty stomach. The balmy air had made Sauvage exuberant and he exclaimed:

“Suppose we go”

“Where?”

“Fishing”

“Fishing! Where?

“To our old spot, to Colombes. The French soldiers are stationed near there and I know Colonel Dumoulin will give us a pass.”

“It’s a go; I am with you.”

An hour after, having supplied themselves with their fishing tackle, they arrived at the colonel’s villa. He had smile at their request and had given them a pass in due form.

At about eleven o’clock they reached the advance-guard, and after presenting their pass, walked through Colombes and found themselves very near their destination. Argenteuil, across the way, and the great plains toward Nantere were all deserted. Solitary the hill of Orgemont and Sannois rose clearly above the plains; a splendid point of observation.

“See,” said Sauvage pointing the hills, “The Prussians are there.”

Prussians! They had never seen one, but they knew that they were all around Paris, invisible and powerful: plundering, devastating, and slaughtering. To their superstitious terror they added deep hatred for this unknown and victorious people.

“What if we should meet some?” said Morrisot.

“We would ask them to join us,” said Sauvage in true Parisian style.

Still they hesitated to advance. The silence frightened them. Finally Sauvage picked up courage.

“Come, let us go on cautiously.”

They proceeded slowly, hiding behind bushes, looking anxiously on every side, listening to every sound. A bare strip of land had to be crossed before reaching the river. They started to run. At last, they reached the bank and sank into the bushes, breathless, but relieved.

Morrisot thought he heard some one walking. He listen attentively, but no, he hard no sound. They were indeed alone! The little island shielded them from view. The house where the restaurant used to be seemed deserted; feeling reassured, they settled themselves for a good day’s sport.

Sauvage caught the first fish, Morrisot the second; and every minute they would bring one out which they would place in a net at their feet. It was indeed miraculous! They felt that supreme joy which one feels after having been deprived for months of a pleasant pastime. They had forgotten everything; even the war!

Suddenly, they heard a rumbling sound and the earth shook beneath them. It was the cannon of Mont Valerien. Morissot look up and saw a trail of smoke, which was instantly followed by another explosion. Then they followed in quick succession.

“They are at it again.” Said Sauvage shrugging his shoulder, Morissot, who was naturally peaceful, felt a sudden, uncontrollable anger.

“Stupid fools! What pleasure can they find in killing each other!”

“They are worse than brutes!”

“It will always be thus as long as we have government.”

“Well, such is life.”

“You mean death!” said Morissot laughing.

They continued to discuss the different political problems, while the cannon on Mont Valerien sent death and desolation among the French.

Suddenly they started. They heard a step behind them. They turned and beheld four big men in dark uniform, with guns pointed right at them. Their fishing line dropped out of their hands and floated away with the current.

In a few minutes, the Prussian soldiers had bound them, cast them into a boat, and rowed across the river of the Island which our friends had thought deserted. They soon found out their mistake when they reach the house, behind which stood a score or more of soldiers. A big burly officer, seated astride a chair, smoking on immense pipe, addressed them n excellent French:

“Well, gentlemen, have you made a good haul?”

Just then, a soldier deposited at his feet the net full of fish which he has taken good care to take along with him, the officer smiled and said:

“I see you have done pretty well; but let us change the subject. You are evidently sent to spy upon me. You pretended to fish so as to put me off the scent, but I am not so simple. Ia have caught you and shall have you shot. I am sorry, but war is war. As you passed the advanced-guard you certainly must have the password; give it to me, and I will set you free.”

The two friends stood side by side, pale and slightly trembling, but they answered nothing.

“No one will ever know. You will go back home quietly and the secret will disappear with you. If you refuse, it is instant death! Choose!”

They remained motionless, silent. The Prussian officer calmly pointed to the river.

“In five minutes you will be at the bottom of this river! Surely, you have a family, friends waiting for you?”

Still they kept silent. The cannon rumbled incessantly. The officer gave orders in his own tongue, and then moved his chair away from the prisoner. A squad of men advanced within twenty feet of them, ready for command.

“I give you one minute; not a second more!”

Suddenly approaching the two Frenchmen, he took Morissot aside, and whispered:

“Quick, the password. Your friend will not know; he will think I have changed my mind.” Morissot said nothing.

Then taking Sauvage aside asked him the same thing, but he also was silent. The officer gave the further orders and the men leveled their guns. At that moment, Morissot’s eyes rested on the net full of fish lying in the grass a few feet away. The sight made him faint and, though he struggled against it, his eyes filled with tears. Then turning to his friend:

“Farewell! Mr. Sauvage!”

“Farewell! Mr. Morissot!”

They stood for a minute, hand in hand, trembling with emotion which they were unable to control.

“Fire!!” commanded officer.

The squad of men fired as one. Sauvage fell straight on his face. Morissot, who was taller, swayed, pivoted, and fell across his friend’s body, his face to the sky; while blood flowed freely from the wound in his breast. The officer gave the further orders and his men disappeared. They came back presently with ropes and stones, which they tied the feet of the two friends, and four of them carried them to the edge of the river. They swung them and threw them in as far as they could. The bodies weighted by the stones sank immediately. A splash, a few ripples and the water resumed its usual calmness. The only thing to be seen was a little blood floating on the surface. The officer calmly retraced his steps toward the house muttering.

“The fish will get even now.”

He perceived the net full of fish, picked it up, smiled, and called:

“Willhelm!”

A soldier in a white apron approached. The officer handed him fish saying:

“Fry these little things while they are still alive. They will make a delicious meal.”

And having resumed his position on the chair, he puffed away his pipe.

[1] The Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, the story is set in the closing day of the war when an armistice was being negotiated.

[2] This area is northwest of the center of Paris; today it lies inside the city limits.

[3] A very strong, green-colored liqueur with a bitter licorice flavor, prohibited today by law from being manufactured or sold in Europe and United States.


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