This is the story of a man named Hauchecorne, who stoops over one day to pick up a piece of string from the street. When he sees he is being observed by his enemy M. Malandain, he is embarrassed to be caught taking something so insignificant as a bit of string, so he pretends he is looking for something else. From the start, therefore, Hauchecorne is characterized as crafty and deceitful, misleading others about his intentions.
Later, when a purse containing 500 francs goes missing, Malandain accuses Hauchecorne of stealing it. Hauchercorne vehemently protests his innocence, insisting he was only picking up a piece of string.
Even after the purse is found with the 500 francs still in it, the peasants in the town believe Hauchecorne stole it. They believe an accomplice dropped the purse to clear Hauchercorne of the crime. The peasants think that "he was, perhaps, capable of having done what they accused him of and even of boasting of it as a good trick.”
The more people accuse him, the more Hauchercorne insists he is innocent, becoming more and more elaborate and obsessed with his defense, which, ironically, leads him to be more and more disbelieved. He, like Shakespeare says, "doth protest too much." And like the boy who cried wolf, he has such a history of craftiness and deceit that even when he is innocent, people believe he is guilty. His past comes back to haunt him, he becomes more and more the butt of peasant ridicule, and eventually some months later sickens and dies.