This short story is taken from Alphonse Daudet’s Letters From My Mill, translated by Katherine Prescott Wormeley (Boston: Little, Brown & co, 1901).
M. Seguin’s Goat
TO M. PIERRE GRINGOIRE, LYRIC POET IN PARIS
You will always be the same, my poor Gringoire!
What! a place is offered to you as reporter on one of the best Parisian newspapers, and you have the coolness to refuse it? Look at yourself, you luckless fellow! look at your shabby jacket, those dilapidated breeches, and that thin face that cries out hunger. It is to this that your passion for noble verse has brought you! This is what your loyal ten years’ service as page to Sire Apollo has won! On the whole, are you not ashamed of it?
Come, make yourself a reporter, imbecile; make yourself a reporter. You will earn good crown pieces, and have your knife and fork at Brebant’s, and you can exhibit yourself on all first nights with a new feather in your cap.
No? What, you won’t? You insist on living free and as you please to the end of the chapter? Well, then! listen to the history of M. Seguin’s goat. You will see what is gained by wishing to live at liberty.
M. Seguin never had luck with his goats. He lost them in all kinds of ways. One fine morning they broke their tether and wandered away to the mountain, where a wolf ate them. Neither the caresses of their master nor fear of the wolf, nothing could restrain them. They were, it appeared, independent goats, wanting at any cost free air and liberty.
The worthy M. Seguin, who did not understand the nature of his animals, was shocked. He said:
”That’s enough; goats are bored by living with me; I won’t keep another.”
However, after losing six in that way, he was not discouraged, and he bought a seventh; but this time he was careful to get her quite young, so young that she might the better get accustomed to live with him.
Ah! Gringoire, she was pretty, that little goat of M. Seguin’s, so pretty with her soft eyes, her little tuft of beard like a sub-officer, her black and shiny hoofs, her ribbed horns, and her long, white hair which wrapped her like a mantle! She was almost as charming as that kid of Esmeralda’s you remember, Gringoire? and then, so docile, so coaxing, letting herself be milked without budging, and never putting her foot in the bowl! A love of a little goat!
Behind M. Seguin’s house was a field hedged round with hawthorn. It was there that he put his new boarder. He fastened her to a stake, at the very best part of the meadow, taking care to give her plenty of rope; and from time to time he went to see if she was satisfied. The goat seemed very happy, and cropped the grass with such heartiness that M. Seguin was delighted.
”At last,” thought the poor man, “here’s one at least that isn’t bored by living with me!”
M. Seguin deceived himself; the goat was bored.
One day she said to herself, looking at the mountain:
”How nice it must be up there! What a pleasure to skip in the heather, without this cursed rope, which rubs my neck! It is all very well for asses and cattle to browse in a field, but goats! why, they want the open.”
From that moment the grass of the meadow seemed to her insipid. Ennui seized her. She grew thin, her milk was scanty. It was really piteous to see her, straining at the tether all day, her head turned to the mountain, her nostril flaming, and she saying “Ma-e” so sadly.
M. Seguin saw that something was the matter with his goat, but he did not know what. One morning, after he had milked her, the goat turned round and said to him in her patois:
”Listen, M. Seguin; I am so weary here with you; let me go on the mountain.”
”Ah! mon Dieu! She, too!” cried poor M. Seguin, stupefied, and he let fall the bowl; then, sitting down on the grass at the side of his goat he said:
”Oh! Blanchette, would you leave me?”
And Blanchette answered:
”Yes, M. Seguin.”
”Isn’t there grass enough here to please you?”
”Oh! plenty, M. Seguin.”
”Do I tie you too short? shall I lengthen the rope?”
”It isn’t worth while, M. Seguin.”
”Then what is the matter? what do you want?”
”I want to go on the mountain, M. Seguin.”
”But, you unhappy little thing, don’t you know there are wolves on the mountain? What would you do if a wolf attacked you?”
”I’d butt him with my horns.”
” A wolf wouldn’t care for your horns. He has eaten up goats of mine with much bigger horns than yours. Don’t you remember that poor old Renaude who was here last year? Strong and spiteful as a ram. She fought all night with the wolf, but, in the morning, the wolf ate her.”
”Pecaïre! Poor Renaude! But that does not matter, M. Seguin; let me go to the mountain.”
”Merciful powers!” exclaimed M. Seguin, “what is the matter with my goats? Another one for the wolf to eat! Well, no, I shall save you in spite of yourself, you slut! and for fear you should break your rope I shall put you in the stable, and there you will stay.”
Whereupon M. Seguin led the goat into his brand-new stable, and double-locked the door. Unfortunately, he forgot the window, and hardly had he turned his back before the little one was out and away.
You laugh, Gringoire? Parbleu! I suppose so; you take the side of the goats against that good M. Seguin. We’11 see if you laugh presently.
When the white goat reached the mountain there was general delight. Never had the old fir-trees seen anything so pretty. They received her like a little princess. The chestnut-trees bent to the ground to kiss her with the tips of their branches. The golden gorse opened wide to let her pass, and smelt just as sweet as it could. In fact, the whole mountain welcomed her.
You can imagine, Gringoire, how happy she was! No more rope, no stake, nothing to prevent her from skipping and browsing as she pleased. My dear fellow, the grass was above her horns! and such grass! luscious, delicate, toothsome, made of all sorts of plants. Quite another thing from that grass in the meadow. And the flowers, oh! Great blue campanulas and crimson fox gloves with their long calyxes, a perfect forest of wild-flowers giving out an intoxicating sweetness.
The white goat, a little tipsy, wallowed in the thick of them with her legs in the air, and rolled down the banks pell-mell with the falling leaves and the chestnuts. Then, suddenly, she sprang to her feet with a bound, and hop! away she went, head foremost, through thicket and bushes, now on a rock, now in a gully, up there, down there, everywhere. You would have said that ten of M. Seguin’s goats were on the mountain.
The fact is, Blanchette was afraid of nothing.
She sprang with a bound over torrents that spattered her as she passed with a dust of damp spray. Then, all dripping, she would stretch her self out on a nice flat rock and dry in the sun. Once, coming to the edge of a slope with a bit of laurel between her teeth, she saw below, far below on the plain, the house of M. Seguin with the meadow behind it; and she laughed till she cried.
”How small it is!” she said; “how could I ever have lived there?”
Poor little thing! being perched so high she fancied she was tall as the world.
Well! it was a good day for M. Seguin’s goat. About noon, running from right to left, she fell in with a herd of chamois munching a wild vine with all their teeth. Among them our little white gowned rover made quite a sensation. They gave her the choicest place at the vine, and all those gentlemen were very gallant. In fact, it appears but this is between ourselves, Gringoire that a young chamois with a black coat had the great good fortune to please Blanchette. The pair wandered off in the woods for an hour or so, and if you want to know what they said to each other, go ask those chattering brooks that are running invisible through the mosses.
Suddenly the wind freshened. The mountain grew violet; it was dusk.
”Already!” said the little goat; and she stopped, quite surprised.
Below, the fields were drowned in mist. M. Seguin’s meadow disappeared in the fog, and nothing could be seen of the house but the roof and a trifle of smoke. She heard the little bells of a flock that was on its way home, and her soul grew sad. A falcon, making for his nest, swept her with his wings as he passed. She shuddered. Then came a howl on the mountain:
She thought of the wolf; all day that silly young thing had never once thought of it. At the same moment a horn sounded far, far down the valley. It was that good M. Seguin, making a last effort.
”Hoo! hoo!” howled the wolf.
” Come back! come back!” cried the horn.
Blanchette felt a wish to return, but remembering the stake, the rope, the hedge of the field, she thought that she never could endure that life again and ‘twas better to remain where she was.
The horn ceased to sound.
The goat heard behind her the rustling of leaves. She turned and saw in the shadow two short ears, erect, and two eyes shining. It was the wolf.
Enormous, motionless, seated on his tail, he was looking at the little white goat and smack ing his lips in advance. As he knew very well he should eat her up, the wolf was not in a hurry; but when she turned round and saw him he began to laugh wickedly: “Ha! ha! M. Seguin’s little goat!” and he licked his great red tongue round his wily chops.
Blanchette felt she was lost. For an instant, remembering the story of old Renaude, who had fought all night only to be eaten in the morning, she said to herself that ‘twas better, perhaps, to be eaten at once; but then, thinking otherwise, she put herself on guard, head low, horns forward, like the brave little goat that she was. Not that she had any hope of killing the wolf, goats can’t kill wolves, but only to see if she, too, could hold out as long as old Renaude.
Then the monster advanced, and the pretty little horns began the dance.
Ah! the brave goatling! with what heart she went at it! More than ten times I’m not exaggerating, Gringoire more than ten times she forced the wolf back to get breath. During each of these momentary truces the dainty little thing nibbled one more blade of her dearly loved grass; then, with her mouth full, she returned to the combat. It lasted all through the night. From time to time M. Seguin’s goat looked up at the stars as they danced on the cloudless sky and said to her self:
”Oh! if I can only hold out till dawn.”
One after another, the stars went out. Blanchette redoubled the blows of her horns, and the wolf the snap of his teeth. A pale gleam showed on the horizon. The hoarse crowing of a cock rose from a barnyard.
”At last!” said the poor little goat, who had only awaited the dawn to die; and she stretched herself out on the ground in her pretty white fur all spotted with gore.
Then the wolf fell upon her and ate her up.
The story you have now heard is not a tale of my own invention. If ever you come to Provence, our farmers will often tell you of la cabro de Moussu Seguin y que se battége touto la neui emé lou loup, e piei lou matin lou loup la mangé.
You understand me, Gringoire: “And then, in the morning, the wolf ate her up.”