The Comtesse de Segur Translation: Sophie's Misfortunes (3)
The Little Fish: Summary
Sophie doesn't always think before she acts, and this gets her into trouble when she accidentally kills her mother's fish. But will she be brave enough to confess what she did?
Read Part 1 and Part 2
- Sophie's Misfortunes 1
Sophie receives a wax doll from her father and thinks putting it in the sun to give it a tan is a good idea...
- Sophie's Misfortunes 2
Sophie is fascinated by the quicklime that workers use in buildings, and doesn't listen to her mother's advice to stay away from the burning material...
The Little Fish
Sophie was absent-minded; she often did naughty things without meaning to.
Here's what happened to her one day:
Her mother had little fish that weren't longer than a needle and not fatter than the feather of a pigeon. Mrs. de Rean loved her little fish, which lived in a little basin on the bottom of which there was sand so that they could burrow into it and hide. Every morning Mrs. de Rean brought bread to her little fish; Sophie liked to watch them as they threw themselves on the crumbs of bread and fought each other to have them.
One day her father gave her a pretty little tortoiseshell knife. Sophie, delighted with her knife, used it to cut her bread, her apples, her buiscuits, flowers, etc.
One morning, Sophie played; her nurse had given her bread, which she'd cut into little pieces, almonds which she'd cut into slivers, and lettuce leaves; she'd asked her nurse for oil and vinegar to make the salad.
"No," answered the nurse, "I don't mind giving you salt, but not oil or vinegar, which could spot your dress."
Sophie took the salt and put it on her salad; there was a lot left.
"If only I had something to salt," she said. "I don't want to salt bread; I need meat or fish. Oh! The good idea! I'll salt mama's little fish; I'll cut a few in pieces with my knife, and salt the others whole. How fun it will be! What a nice dish it will make!"
Sophie did not think that her mother would not longer have the pretty little fish that she loved so, while they would suffer a lot from being salted alive or from being cut into pieces. Sophie ran into the sitting room where the little fish were; she approached the basin, fished them all, put them into a plate from her set of playthings, and returned to her little table. She took a few of these poor little fish and placed them on a dish. But the fish, who were unhappy out of the water, moved and jumped as much as they could. To keep them still, Sophie poured salt on their backs, their heads, their tails. Then, they were still. The poor fish were dead. When Sophie's plate was full, she took more fish and began to cut them into pieces. At the first cut of the knife, the poor fish still moved desperately; but they soon became still as they died. After the second fish, Sophie realized that she was killing them by cutting them into pieces. She looked worriedly at the salted fish; realizing they were not moving, she examined them attentively and saw they were all dead. Sophie became red as a cherry.
"What will mother say?" she wondered. "What will I become, me, poor me! How can I hide this?"
Sophie's Mother Finds Out
She thought for a moment. Her face grew clear; she had found a wonderful way to prevent her mother from discovering anything.
She quickly scooped up the salted and cut fish, put them into a little plate, left her room quietly, and put them back in their basin.
"Mother will think," she said, "that they fought, that they ripped each other apart and killed one another. I will wipe my plates, my knife, and hide the salt; nurse luckily didn't notice that I had gone to fetch the fish. She's busy with her work and isn't thinking of me." Sophie entered her room without noise, sat down at her little table, and continued to play with her dish-set. After a while she got up, took a book, and began to look at the pictures. But she was worried; she was not paying attention to the pictures, she kept imagining she could hear her mother.
Suddenly, Sophie turned white, then reddened; she heard the voice of Mrs. de Rean, who was calling the servants; she heard her speaking loudly as if she was yelling at them, the servants came and went; Sophie trembled in case her mother called the nurse or herself. But everything calmed down and she no longer heard anything.
The nurse, who had also heard noise and who was curious, left her work and went out.
She returned fifteen minutes later.
"How lucky," she told Sophie, "that we were both in our room without ever leaving! Your mother just went to see her fish; she found them all dead, some whole, others cut into pieces. She called the servants and asked them who was the cruel person who had killed those poor animals; no one could say or would say anything. I just ran into her; she asked me if you'd been in the living room. Luckily I was able to answer that you hadn't moved from here, that you were having fun with your play dishes. 'It's odd', your mother answered, 'I would have bet that Sophie was responsible for this.' 'Oh, ma'am!' I answered. 'Sophie isn't capable of doing such a mean thing.' 'Good,' said your mother, 'as I would have severely punished her. It's lucky for her that you never left her and that you can assure me that she could not have killed my poor fish.' 'Oh! as to that, ma'am, I'm quite certain,' I answered."
Sophie wasn't saying anything; she stayed still and red, her head lowered, her eyes full of tears. She wanted to admit to her nurse that it was her who had done it, but she lacked courage.
The nurse, seeing her sad, believed it was the death of the poor little fish that upset her.
"I was quite certain," she said, "that you would be sad like your mother of the misfortune that happened to these poor little animals. But I have to say that the fish were not happy in their prison; for the basin was a prison to her; now that they're dead, they won't suffer anymore. So don't think about it anymore, and come so that I can get you ready before going into the living room; it's dinnertime soon."
Sophie allowed herself to be combed, washed, without a word; when she entered the living room, her mother was there.
What Happens to Sophie
"Sophie," she said, "did your nurse tell you what happened to my little fish?"
"If your nurse had not assured me that you had stayed with her in your room since you had left me, I would have thought it was you who had killed them," said Mrs. de Rean. "All the servants say it's not them. But I think it's the servant Simon, who was in charge of changing the water and the sand in the basin. He wanted to get rid of this bother and he killed my poor fish so he would not have to take care of them anymore. I'll send him away tomorrow."
"Oh, mother!" cried Sophie, frightened. "That poor man! What will he become with his wife and children?"
"Too bad for him. He shouldn't have killed my little fish, which never did anything bad to him, and which he made suffer by cutting into pieces."
"It's not him, mother!" said Sophie. "I assure you, it's not him!"
"And how do you know it's not him? I thnk it's him, that it can only be him, and tomorrow I'll make him leave."
Sophie began to cry and joigned her hands together. "Oh, no! mother, don't do it. It was I who took the little fish and killed them."
Mrs. de Rean looked at her with surprise. "You! What nonsense! You who loved the little fish, you would not have made them suffer and die! I see you say that to excuse Simon."
"No, mother, I promise you that it's me. Yes, it's me: I didn't want to kill them, I only wanted to salt them, and I thought the salt wouldn't hurt them. I didn't know either that cutting them into pieces hurt them, since they didn't scream. But when I saw them dead, I placed them back in their basin, without my nurse, who was working, and didn't see me go out or come back."
Mrs. de Rean remained so surprised by Sophie's confession that for a few moments she didn't answer.
Sophie raised her eyes timidly and saw those of her mother fixed on her, but without anger or severity.
"Sophie," said Mrs. de Rean finally, "if I had learned by chance, that is, with God's permission, who always punishes mean people, what you just told me, I would have punished you without pity and with severity. But I will pardon you because of the kindness that made you confess your fault to excuse Simon. I will therefore not reproach you anything. I'm sure you know how cruel you were toward the poor little fish by not thinking first that the salt must kill them, and then how impossible it is to cut and kill any beast without it suffering."
And, seeing that Sophie was crying, she added:
"Don't cry, Sophie, and never forget to confess your faults, it's to have them pardonned."
Sophie wiped her eyes, thanked her mother, but she stayed sad all day at having caused the death of her little friends the fish.
Check out this fun cartoon of the original French book
Check out the next translated book in the trilogy here:
- Vintage Book Life: Translation of Les Petites Filles Modeles by the Comtesse de Segur 1
This book follows the lives of two sisters whom we were introduced to in Sophie's Misfortunes, Camille and Madeleine. Sophie also makes appearances. Check back often as translations are uploaded twice a week.
- Vintage Book Life: Translation of Les Petites Filles Modeles, Comtesse de Segur 2