my physical development had been very rapid. In spite of deprivations and blows, living continually in the open sea air, free and strong, I had grown so fast that at the age of eleven I experienced the first awakenings of womanhood. Beneath my girlish exterior, I was almost a woman.
At the age of twelve I was a woman quite, and no longer a virgin. Raped? No, not exactly. Consenting? Yes, almost,—at least in the degree in which the artlessness of my vice and the candor of my depravity were consistent with consent. The thing occurred one Sunday, after high mass, near the beach, on the Saint Jean side, in a recess in the cliff, in a dark hole among the rocks where the sea-gulls came to build their nests, and where the sailors sometimes hid the wreckage which they found at sea. The man was the foreman of a sardine-packing establishment,—an old, hairy, ill-smelling man, whose face was nothing but a dirty mass of beard and hair. He gave me an orange. He had a funny name,—M. Cléophas Biscouille.
And here is an incomprehensible thing, of which I have found no explanation in any novel. Ugly, brutal, and repulsive though M. Biscouille was, when I think of him now,—and I often do,—how happens it that it is never with a feeling of detestation for him, never with a disposition to curse him? At this recollection, which I call up with satisfaction, I feel a sort of great gratitude,