On the previous evening, that of Wednesday, Marc Froment, the Jonville schoolmaster, with Geneviève his wife and Louise his little girl, had arrived at Maillebois, where he was in the habit of spending a month of his vacation, in the company of his wife's grandmother and mother, Madame Duparque and Madame Berthereau—'those ladies,' as folk called them in the district. Maillebois, which counted two thousand inhabitants and ranked as the chief place of a canton, was only six miles distant from the village of Jonville, and less than four from Beaumont, the large old university town. The first days of August were oppressively hot that year. There had been a frightful storm on the previous Sunday, during the distribution of prizes; and again that night, about two o'clock, a deluge of rain had fallen, without, however, clearing the sky, which remained cloudy, lowering, and oppressively heavy. The ladies, who had risen at six in order to be ready for seven o'clock Mass, were already in their little dining-room awaiting the younger folk, who evinced no alacrity to come down. Four cups were set out on the white oilcloth table-cover, and at last Pélagie appeared with the coffee-pot. Small of build and red-haired, with a large nose and thin lips, she had been twenty years in Madame Duparque's service, and was accustomed to speak her mind.