The Little Keg

Adapted from The Little Keg by Guy de Maupassant, adapted by Karoline Fløysvik and Maria Maciel

First performed as part of Playing with Prose, 19 May 2020

Cast: Lucy Phelps

 It’s winter, around Christmas time. Madame Maglorie sits on her chair outside her farm, peeling potatoes and dropping them in a bucket of water. There is a bottle by her side, which she takes some sips from throughout. She is a woman, seventy-six years of age. She’s a little bit tipsy.

 Talks about her simple life

I have always lived on a diet of soup and bread and butter. And water.

I was born here and here I shall die.

She takes a sip from the bottle.

Oh, just two or three friendly glasses.

Introducing Chicot

She drops a big potato on the ground. She picks it up. Holds it up.

 This is Monsieur Chicot. People said he was a sly one.

Monsieur Chicot, proprietor of Épreville’s only tavern, reined in his dog cart outside my farm. He was a big man, forty years old, with a hearty manner, a red face, and a pot belly.

He hitched his horse to the gatepost and walked into my farmyard. He owned a piece of land adjoining my property, which he had wanted to get his hands on for some time. He had offered to buy it a score of times, but I stubbornly refused to sell. But here he was again, trying to make me sell the farm.

Chicot seemed awkward, uncertain, anxious, as though there was something on the tip of his tongue which would not come out. Eventually he took the plunge and asked me if I was still set against selling up the farm. I said “Sell? Never!” My mind was made up.

She drops the potato in the bucket of water.

Until he mentioned an arrangement that he thought would suit us both.

She takes a sip from the bottle.

I froze as he told me.

Maglorie playing Chicot:

“It’d be like this. Every month, I give you 150 francs. You got that? Every month regular I’ll come in the cart and fetch you 30 écus. Beyond that, it’ll all be exactly the same as now. No difference at all. You can stay put. You won’t have to bother your head about me. You won’t owe me a penny piece. All you have to do is take my money. How does that suit?”

She looks suspicious. 

I was taken aback, uneasy, but tempted. What would he get out of it? Would it mean that he would get is hand on the farm? I was sure something in his plan was not to my advantage. But then again, 30 écus every month, thirty round, shiny coins cascading into my lap, dropping from the sky above, without me having to do anything to earn them.

She takes a long sip from the bottle.

Just two or three friendly glasses … I was ill with greed.

The notary

 I had to get a second opinion, so I went to the notary who advised me to take Chicot’s proposition, but ask for 50 écus rather than 30, since the farm was worth at least 60.000 francs.

She stands up. Wobbles.

I felt weak in the knees of the prospect of 50 écus a month. But I was still fearing all manner of unexpected difficulties and hidden traps. After a whole day of discussion with the notary I gave instructions for the deed to be drawn up and went home. My head was swimming as though I had drunk a gallon of young cider.

She tries to keep her balance.

When Chicot returned to the farm, to ask me to sell it again I made him wait for it, saying no, and that I didn’t want to sign. He pressed me and in the end, I laid down my conditions.

She sits down again.

He was mortified and refused point-blank.

Maglorie acts as if she is very frail and old. She mumbles.

So to talk him around I said: “I’ll probably only live five or six years at most, that’s all I got left, most likely. I’m going on seventy-three now and none to spry. Some nights I really think my time has come. Don’t have the strength to set one foot in front of the other.”

I had to be put to bed.

The rest of the day was spent arguing. But since I would not budge, he agreed in the end to give the 50 écus.

After the deal

Then three years passed and I remained as fit as a fiddle.

She takes another sip from the bottle. She talks more to herself.

I knew he felt as if he had been paying out for years and years, that he had been had, diddled, ruinated. From time to time he would call me to check how I was. I always met him with a glim of spite in my eye because of the clever way I had outmanoeuvred him.

She laughs. She tries to continue to peel the potatoes.

“Die, damn you, die” he said to himself. I know he didn’t know what to do. Each time he saw me he would have gladly throttled me. He hated me with the savage, sly/

The potato she holds slips from her finger and falls to the ground.

/hatred of the peasant who knows he has been swindled.

She picks up the potato.

Dinner at Chicot’s

One day he approached me in a different manner. He told me how we have fallen out. And that grieved him no end. So he invited me over for dinner. “It wouldn’t cost you a penny mind” he said. I did not need to be asked twice.

She throws the potato away.

They gave me a royal welcome and brought chicken, black pudding, sausage, a leg of lamb, and a plateful of bacon and cabbage. But I ate almost nothing. I had always lived on a diet of soup and bread and butter. I didn’t drink wine either, nor did I have coffee.

In the end he said: “But you will have a glass of something to finish won´t you?”. Like I said I did not need to be asked twice. He filled two small glasses. I took small, slow sips to make it last.

She shugs the rest of the bottle, finishing it.

When I was finished, he was already pouring the second one and I tried to say no but it was too late, and I lingered over it as I had with the first. He tried to persuade me to have a third but I refused. I was sorely tempted and I let myself be persuaded. But I only had half a glass.

Playing Chicot:

“Look, since you like it, I’ll give you a little keg of it. Just to show we’re still good friends.”

I didn’t say no and went home feeling slightly woozy.

The next day, Chicot drove by, with a small keg in his hands.

She opens a new bottle.

 After we had drunk a few friendly glasses he went away saying that when it was all gone there was more where it came from. He told me not to bother about the money. Two or three friendly glasses with Monsieur Chicot. Two or three friendly glasses. Two or three friendly glasses. Two or three friendly glasses with myself.

She almost falls asleep. Wakes up startled.

Soon, it was being said everywhere that I had taken to drink. I was found lying on the floor, in my kitchen, in the yard outside, in lanes roundabout, and had to be carried home as dead to the world as a corpse, because I was one. Just two or three friendly glasses.

She takes another sip.

If I’d only kept off the drink, I’d have been good for another ten year.

She tries to reach for another potato to peel. She slips and falls with her head into the bucket of water.