A young farmer's mother is dying. The farmer, Honore, is concerned about his mother but he is even more concerned about getting his wheat in before the rains come. He is prepared to leave her to die alone, but at the insistence of the doctor agrees to hire Mother Rapet to tend his mother. Mother Rapet is an old washerwoman who supplements her income by watching the dying and preparing them for burial. La Rapet offers to work for Honore for a daily wage. Honore refuses, for he knows how obstinate his mother is and fears she will take a long time to die making La Rapet's services expensive. He insists on a set rate and La Rapet eventually agrees.

After three days, the mother still has not died and La Rapet realizes that she is losing money. Taking matters into her own hands, she tells the dying woman that at the moment before death everyone sees the devil. She then wraps herself in a blanket, puts a pot on her head, and throws a pail across the room making a huge noise. The dying woman thinks she is the devil and struggles to leap out of bed; instead, she collapses on the floor, dead.


Honore's situation is similar to that of modern day family members faced with a dying or dependent relative. He feels forced to put his mother's care in someone else's hands, to negotiate for her well-being. Mother Rapet seems evil when she kills the old woman, but many would do the same to protect their pockets. The story raises questions about ethical treatment of the dying. What is a child's moral obligation to care for his or her infirm parents? Who decides when their time has come?

Primary Source

Short Stories of the Tragedy and Comedy of Life, Vol. 2


M. Walter Dunne

Place Published

New York