Two Little Soldiers by Guy de Maupassant

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Luc and Jean are two soldiers who habitually spend their free time on Sundays away from the barracks, out in the countryside. Their day off has taken on the character of a ritual. Every Sunday, they bring food for breakfast to the same spot in the woods and lie back to enjoy the food, wine, and sights of an area that reminds them of home.

Eventually, their ritual comes to include a bit of innocent ogling of a young village girl who brings her cow out to pasture every week at the same time. One Sunday, however, the girl speaks to them on her way to the pasture, and when she returns later, she shares the cow’s milk with them and leaves them with a promise to meet the following Sunday.

The next weekend, Jean suggests that they bring something for her. They settle on candy as an appropriate present, but when the girl arrives, both are too shy to tell her that they have brought something. Finally, Luc tells the girl of the treat, and Jean, who always carries the provisions, give the bonbons to her.

As the weeks pass, the girl becomes the topic of conversation for these soldiers as they spend time at the barracks, and the three become fast friends. The girl begins to share their Sunday breakfast meal and appears to devote equal attention to the two recruits.

Then, in an uncharacteristic move, Luc seeks leave on a Tuesday, and again the following Thursday. He borrows money from Jean on that day but offers no explanation for his behavior. Jean lends the money.

The following Sunday, when the girl appears with the cow, she immediately rushes up to Luc and they embrace ardently. Jean is hurt because he is left out and does not understand why the girl has suddenly turned all of her attention to Luc. Luc and the girl go off to care for the cow and disappear into the woods for a long time. Jean is stupefied. When they return, the lovers kiss again, and the girl offers Jean a kind “Good evening” before going away.

Neither soldier speaks of the incident, but as they return to their barracks they stop momentarily on the bridge over the Seine. Jean leans over toward the water, farther than he should in Luc’s judgment, then suddenly tumbles into the torrent. Luc can do nothing; he watches in anguish as his good friend drowns.