Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 704
The opening dialogue of “The Tender Shoot” introduces the reader to an unidentified woman and an old friend of hers to whom she gives the name Albin Chaveriat. Evidently this name is chosen to hide the real identity of the storyteller. The setting is Paris, in May of 1940. Over dinner, the woman persuades her seventy-year-old bachelor friend to tell her a story of his love life, a secret life that limited, for the woman at least, a deeper sense of their friendship.
The woman has just encouraged Chaveriat to spend his time in the country, while the war lasts, at the Hersent home, a home filled with young daughters and nieces. Chaveriat refuses to go there for that very reason. He has renounced the two great passions of his life, young girls and shooting. Chaveriat begins his story by telling the woman that it was because of the dissolution of a masculine friendship that he acquired his taste for young girls. Chaveriat considered his friend Eyrand’s marriage a betrayal of their mutual affection, refused to forgive him, and the friendship ended. It was with this estrangement that he became unsociable with everyone but very young girls.
Chaveriat proceeds with his story by telling of a late summer in 1923 spent at the estate of a wealthy chemist friend in the region of Doubs. Though he no longer hunted, he still accepted his friends’ hunting invitations. He is especially bored with the others present, their constant eating and drinking, and so he keeps to himself. Being an ardent walker, one day Chaveriat wanders outside the domain and finds himself at the top of a hill where a stream flows by. From the other side of a crumbling wall, the horned forehead of a she-goat nudges his hand. As he is about to touch the she-goat, a girl’s voice warns him not to or the she-goat will chase him. He does so, and the she-goat bounds after him. The girl wrestles the she-goat to the ground, and it runs off.
Chaveriat’s passion for young girls is sparked by the presence of this lovely, nearly sixteen-year-old country girl named Louisette. A flirtation begins with very evident romantic intentions on the part of Chaveriat. Several times he offers Louisette trinkets to flatter and charm her. Each time she adamantly refuses, saying that her mother would disapprove, would not understand. After a week of these late-morning lovers’ meetings, Chaveriat, because of a social conflict, invites Louisette to meet him in the evening.
More than two weeks of meetings follow when Louisette changes their meeting time to much later in the evening. By that time her mother will be in bed, and Louisette’s work will be finished. One late evening, Chaveriat takes leave of his host to rendezvous with Louisette. The threatening weather prompts him to carry his mackintosh and his pocket torch. Their lovemaking is interrupted by a rainstorm, and Louisette leads him to the shelter of her nearby home, a run-down château. Quietly they sneak into the darkened château and settle on a sofa. The rain subsides and he is about to leave when the downpour redoubles.
Chaveriat’s uneasiness grows in this strange place, and he is eager to escape from these unfamiliar, eerie surroundings. Suddenly a candlelight appears on the staircase. Louisette’s mother appears, a small, white-haired woman with a magnificent gaze, resembling her young daughter. To no avail Chaveriat attempts to explain his behavior with her daughter. She asks him how old he is and then rebukes him, a man of fifty with white hair and wrinkles under his eyes, for having forced himself on her daughter. She could have understood such behavior with young boys but not with an old man.
With Louisette and her mother becoming increasingly enraged and threatening, Chaveriat streaks out of the house with them in pursuit. As he escapes down the dilapidated, stone-walled path, the two women push stones from the top of the wall that strike him on the shoulder, ear, and foot. Finally Chaveriat arrives at his host’s home. After a long and violent bout with fever, he recovers to renounce his passion for all the Louisettes of the world.