Practical Jokes (Maupassant)

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Practical Jokes
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A man recounted two practical jokes, one where he was the victim and another where he played a trick on an old lady, both involving unexpected surprises and humorous outcomes.

The narrator fondly recalled the days when practical jokes were a common source of amusement. He shared two memorable experiences, one where he was the victim and another where he played the joke on someone else.

In the first story, the narrator was invited to a friend's country house for a hunting trip. He was suspicious of his overly enthusiastic friends and their excessive laughter throughout the evening. Fearing a prank, he took extreme precautions before going to bed, moving his mattress to the middle of the room and closing all the shutters.

I was going to hunt one autumn with some friends in their country-house in Picardy. My friends were practical jokers, you understand.

However, his precautions backfired when a footman tripped over his makeshift bed while bringing him tea in the morning, causing a commotion and making him the laughingstock of the house.

Good heavens! it was broad day. Everybody ran out at the noise and they found, stretched across my bed, the dismayed footman.

In the second story, the narrator recounted a prank he played on an old lady named Mme. Dufour, who often visited his relatives' country house. She was a constant source of annoyance, always complaining and finding fault with him.

The Narrator — narrator; enjoys playing practical jokes; cautious, observant, and mischievous.
Mme. Dufour — elderly lady; grumpy, faultfinding, and vindictive; wears a black wig and false teeth.

Seeking revenge, the young narrator secretly placed phosphide of lime, a substance that catches fire and emits smoke when exposed to water, in a container in her bedroom. That night, he watched through the keyhole as Mme. Dufour prepared for bed, removing her wig and false teeth. When she finally used the container, it erupted in flames and smoke, causing her to scream in terror and faint.

The white object was crackling, exploding, full of rapid floating flames like the Greek fire of the ancients.

The next day, she appeared pale and constantly drank water, perhaps in an attempt to extinguish the fire she believed was inside her. From then on, whenever someone mentioned illness, Mme. Dufour would sigh and allude to her mysterious experience, never revealing the full details.