by GUY de MAUPASSANT
PAOLO SAVERINI'S WIDOW lived alone with her son in a
poor little house on the ramparts of Bonifacio. The town, built on a spur of the
mountains, in places actually overhanging the sea, looks across a channel
bristling with reefs, to the lower shores of Sardinia. At its foot, on the other
side and almost completely surrounding it, is the channel that serves as its
harbour, cut in the cliff like a gigantic corridor. Through a long circuit
between steep walls, the channel brings to the very foot of the first houses the
little Italian or Sardinian fishing boats, and, every fortnight, the old
steamboat that runs to and from Ajaccio.
Upon the white mountain the group of houses form a whiter patch still. They look
like the nests of wild birds, perched so upon the rock, dominating that terrible
channel through which hardly ever a ship risks a passage. The unresting wind
harasses the sea and eats away the bare shore, clad with a sparse covering of
grass; it rushes into the ravine and ravages its two sides. The trailing wisps
of white foam round the black points of countless rocks that everywhere pierce
the waves, look like rags of canvas floating and heaving on the surface of the
The widow Saverini's house held for dear life to the very edge of the cliff; its
three windows looked out over this wild and desolate scene.
She lived there alone with her son Antoine and their bitch Semillante, a large,
thin animal with long, shaggy hair, of the sheep-dog breed. The young man used
her for hunting.
One evening, after a quarrel, Antoine Saverini was treacherously slain by a
knife-thrust from Nicolas Ravolati, who got away to Sardinia the same night.
When his old mother received his body, carried home by bystanders, she did not
weep, but for a long time stayed motionless, looking at it; then, stretching out
her wrinkled hand over the body, she swore vendetta against him. She would have
no one stay with her, and shut herself up with the body, together with the
howling dog. The animal howled continuously, standing at the foot of the bed,
her head thrust towards her master, her tail held tightly between her legs. She
did not stir, nor did the mother, who crouched over the body with her eyes fixed
steadily upon it, and wept great silent tears.
The young man, lying on his back, clad in his thick serge coat with a hole torn
across the front, looked as though he slept; but everywhere there was blood; on
the shirt, torn off for the first hasty dressing; on his waistcoat, on his
breeches, on his face, on his hands. Clots of blood had congealed in his beard
and in his hair.
The old mother began to speak to him. At the sound of her voice the dog was
"There, there, you shall be avenged, my little one, my boy, my poor child.
Sleep, sleep, you shall be avenged, do you hear! Your mother swears it! And your
mother always keeps her word; you know she does."
Slowly she bent over him, pressing her cold lips on the dead lips.
Then Semillante began to howl once more. She uttered long cries, monotonous,
heart-rending, horrible cries.
They remained there, the pair of them, the woman and the dog, till morning.
Antoine Saverini was buried next day, and before long there was no more talk of
him in Bonifacio.
He had left neither brothers nor close cousins. No man was there to carry on the
vendetta. Only his mother, an old woman, brooded over it.
On the other side of the channel she watched from morning till night a white
speck on the coast. It was a little Sardinian village, Longosardo, where
Corsican bandits fled for refuge when too hard pressed. They formed almost the
entire population of this hamlet, facing the shores of their own country, and
there they awaited a suitable moment to come home, to return to the maquis of
Corsica. She knew that Nicolas Ravolati had taken refuge in this very village.
All alone, all day long, sitting by the window, she looked over there and
pondered revenge. How could she do it without another's help, so feeble as she
was, so near to death? But she had promised, she had sworn upon the body. She
could not forget, she could not wait. What was she to do? She could no longer
sleep at night, she had no more sleep nor peace; obstinately she searched for a
way. The dog slumbered at her feet and sometimes, raising her head, howled into
the empty spaces. Since her master had gone, she often howled thus, as though
she were calling him, as though her animal soul, inconsolable, had retained an
ineffaceable memory of him.
One night, as Semillante was beginning to moan again, the mother had a sudden
idea, an idea quite natural to a vindictive and ferocious savage. She meditated
on it till morning, then, rising at the approach of day, she went to church. She
prayed, kneeling on the stones, prostrate before God, begging Him to aid her, to
sustain her, to grant her poor worn-out body the strength necessary to avenge
Then she returned home. There stood in the yard an old barrel with its sides
stove in, which held the rain-water; she overturned it, emptied it, and fixed it
to the ground with stakes and stones; then she chained up Semillante in this
kennel, and went into the house.
Next she began to walk up and down her room, taking no rest, her eyes still
turned to the coast of Sardinia. He was there, the murderer.
All day long and all night long the dog howled. In the morning the old woman
took her some water in a bowl, but nothing else; no soup, no bread.
Another day went by. Semillante, exhausted, was asleep. Next day her eyes were
shining, her hair on end, and she tugged desperately at the chain.
Again the old woman gave her nothing to eat. The animal, mad with hunger, barked
hoarsely. Another night went by.
When day broke, Mother Saverini went to her neighbour to ask him to give her two
trusses of straw. She took the old clothes her husband had worn and stuffed them
with the straw into the likeness of a human figure.
Having planted a post in the ground opposite Semillante's kennel, she tied the
dummy figure to it, which looked now as though it were standing. Then she
fashioned a head with a roll of old linen.
The dog, surprised, looked at this straw man, and was silent, although devoured
Then the woman went to the pork-butcher and bought a long piece of black
pudding. She returned home, lit a wood fire in her yard, close to the kennel,
and grilled the black pudding. Semillante, maddened, leapt about and foamed at
the mouth, her eyes fixed on the food, the flavour of which penetrated to her
Then with the smoking sausage the mother made a collar for the straw man. She
spent a long time lashing it round his neck, as though to stuff it right in.
When it was done, she unchained the dog.
With a tremendous bound the animal leapt upon the dummy's throat and with her
paws on his shoulders began to rend it. She fell back with a piece of the prey
in her mouth, then dashed at it again, sank her teeth into the cords, tore away
a few fragments of food, fell back again, and leapt once more, ravenous.
With great bites she rent away the face, and tore the whole neck to shreds.
The old woman watched, motionless and silent, a gleam in her eyes. Then she
chained up her dog again, made her go without food for two more days, and
repeated the strange performance.
For three months she trained the dog to this struggle, the conquest of a meal by
fangs. She no longer chained her up, but launched her upon the dummy with a sign.
She had taught the dog to rend and devour it without hiding food in its throat.
Afterwards she would reward the dog with the gift of the black pudding she had
cooked for her.
As soon as she saw the man, Semillante would tremble, then turn her eyes towards
her mistress, who would cry "Off!" in a whistling tone, raising her
When she judged that the time was come, Mother Saverini went to confession and
took communion one Sunday morning with an ecstatic fervour; then, putting on a
man's clothes, like an old ragged beggar, she bargained with a Sardinian
fisherman, who took her, accompanied by the dog, to the other side of the
In a canvas bag she had a large piece of black pudding. Semillante had had
nothing to eat for two days. Every minute the old woman made her smell the
savoury food, stimulating her hunger with it.
They came to Longosardo. The Corsican woman was limping slightly. She went to
the baker's and inquired for Nicolas Ravolati's house. He had resumed his old
occupation, that of a joiner. He was working alone at the back of his shop.
The old woman pushed open the door and called him:
He turned round; then, letting go of her dog, she cried:
"Off, off, bite him, bite him!"
The maddened beast dashed forward and seized his throat.
The man put out his arms, clasped the dog, and rolled upon the ground. For a few
minutes he writhed, beating the ground with his feet; then he remained
motionless while Semillante nuzzled at his throat and tore it out in ribbons.
Two neighbours, sitting at their doors, plainly recollected having seen a poor
old man come out with a lean black dog which ate, as it walked, something brown
that its master was giving to it.
In the evening the old woman returned home. That night she slept well.