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Gerald R. Griffin. "The Piece of String." Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition writes in his summary of this story, "Maitre Hauchecorne is an old peasant. On an autumn market-day in Goderville, Hauchecorne is about to enter the square when he sees a piece of string on the ground and, being of the saving kind, retrieves it. As he does so, he becomes aware that an enemy of his, M. Malandain, the local harness maker, is watching. Ashamed to be seen picking up a remnant of string, the protagonist furtively hides it in his clothing and then pretends to be looking for something of value on the ground. With his head bent over in his intent search, he moves on toward the market." Hauchercorne is accused by his enemy Malandain of stealing a woman's purse. The purse is found and Hauchercorne feels vindicated, but people still don't believe he had nothing to do with the missing purse. Hauchercorne is so ridiculed and isolated from this incident that "the protagonist falls ill in late December and is bedridden. Early in January, he dies; in his deathbed delirium, his denials of wrongdoing are focused in a single phrase uttered repeatedly: “A little bit of string—a little bit of string.”
It is market day and the Norman farmers and their wives stream into town. Maître Hauchecorne of Breauté is just making his way toward the square when he notices a piece of string. The thrifty Hauchecorne bends down and picks up the string. When he realizes he is being watched by Maître Malandain, a man with whom he once had a dispute over the cost of a harness, Maître Hauchecorne is rather embarrassed, so he bends again and pretends that he is searching for something he has lost.
As the day goes on, the men and women barter with each other until the market clears. At the innkeeper Jourdain's, the diners sit by an immense fireplace and enjoy their meals when suddenly they hear the rolling beat of a drum. The town crier announces that a black leather pocketbook which contains five hundred francs and some documents is missing. It is requested that the finder return it to Maître Fortuné Houlebrèque. After the crier departs, the diners discuss the chances of finding this pocketbook.
Soon thereafter, the police sergeant appears in the doorway and asks for Maître Hauchecorne to accompany him to the town hall, where the mayor questions him about the lost pocketbook. He tells Hauchecorne that Maître Malandain has previously observed his bending down and picking up something. Hauchecorne denies that he was doing anything but pick up a piece of string. The mayor tells him that he was also searching in the dirt, but Hauchecorne protests vehemently:
How can anyone say such things!...How can anyone say such lies to ruin a man's good name!
No matter how much he protests, no one believes Maître Hauchecorne. Bothered by these accusations, he goes around and stops people to tell them that he has not taken the lost pocketbook. People just respond with things like "You sly old rascal, you!"
Hauchecorne returns to the market and restates his innocence, but is thought to have had an accomplice who returned the pocketbook for him. "He was heartsick over the injustice of being suspected."
Maître Houchecorne takes to his bed in December, and in the early days of January, he keeps protesting his innocence, saying,
Just a bit of string...a little bit of string...Mr. Mayor there it is!
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