“The Piece of String” concerns several months in the life of Maitre Hauchecorne, an old peasant and the protaginst of the short story. Another character was an enemy of his, the antognist M. Malandain, a harness maker. There are several unnamed local peasants, a town crier, and a woman, M. Houlbreque, who lost a pocketbook containing five hundred francs. Maitre Hauchercorne is accused of stealing the purse. There is also an appearance by the chief of gendarmes, who takes Hauchecorne to see the mayor where he is accused of stealing the purse.
A Piece of String is a short story by Guy de Maupassant. It reveals how misunderstanding and trivial detail can ruin a person's reputation. Such is the case of the central character, Maitre Hauchecorne of Breate. A seemingly inconsequential action of picking up a piece of string from the floor (due to his need to be "economical") becomes the sole proof of his dishonesty when he is accused of having picked up a pocket-book from the floor and not a piece of string at all. The more he protests his innocence, the more others mock him. Even long after the pocketbook has been returned by the man who did in fact pick it up, and whose name is Marius Paumelle, a minor character but one who does develop the plot, people still taunt Maitre Hauchecorne for his presumed complicity in the act of stealing it. Paumelle claims that he had had to take it home and could only return it the following day because he is unable to read and so could not return it to its owner being unable to read the name. There is no connection between Paumelle and Hauchecorne. The other main character is Maitre Malandain who is Hauchecorne's enemy, both men unable to feel anything but "malice" towards each other. It is he who accuses Hauchecorne of stealing the pocketbook and he makes up an elaborate story of what he saw. As a reputable businessman, his word is preferred over Hauchecorne.
Other than crowds of peasants and the women selling chickens who sell to Maitre Anthime, the minor characters are the innkeeper Maitre Jourdain, the public crier who announces the loss of the pocketbook, the corporal of gendarmes (the policeman), the mayor ("M'sieu le Maire") who is tasked with laying the charge against Hauchecorne, a farmer at Criquetot who calls him a "great rogue," and a horse dealer.
Hauchecorne is so badly affected by the thought that no one believes him that "his mind kept growing weaker" and he dies shortly thereafter.
Guy de Maupassant's "The Piece of String" follows the story of Maitre Hauchecorne, a peasant who attempts to pick up a piece of string on the ground and finds himself being watched by M. Malandain, a harness maker and his personal enemy.
Hauchecorne is later interrupted during his lunch by the chief of gendarmes, who requests that Hauchecorne meet with the mayor on "village business." Once there, Hauchecorne is accused of stealing the missing pocketbook of M. Houlbreque, a claim which is substantiated by the "witnessing" of Malandain. Despite his outcry, no one believes Hauchecorne, and it is only after a complete search of his person that he is released.
Hauchecorne's reputation as a thief now follows him throughout the village and he spends the rest of his days--up until his death in January--attempting to convince the townspeople that he did not commit the crime.