Jean de Valnoix, a friend of the narrator, lived in a small house in the woods by a river after retiring from a wild life in Paris. One evening, while they were sitting by the river, they heard a voice calling for Jean. It was his servant, announcing the arrival of a gipsy woman and her child.
Jean then told the narrator the story of how he met the woman. Seven years ago, Jean was walking in the forest when he heard mournful cries. He followed the sound and found a caravan with a woman in labor inside.
I had never seen a birth; I had never helped a female creature, woman, dog, or cat, in such a circumstance, and I naively said so, as I stupidly watched this thing which was screaming so in the bed.
The woman's husband was unable to get help because their horse had broken its leg. Jean helped the couple by harnessing his dog and the couple's dog to the caravan and pulling it to his house. The woman gave birth to a girl, and Jean took care of the family for a week.
Every year since then, the woman returned to Jean's house on the same day with her child and a new man, to express her gratitude. The child called each man "Papa," as a sign of respect.
When the woman arrived this time, she was accompanied by a Belgian man. The narrator asked her if this man was the child's father, but she said no, explaining that the real father was a gendarme who had other children with his wife.
Oh! yes, Monsieur, and he loves her very much; but he can't take care of her because he has others by his wife.
The gendarme still loved his child and saw her from time to time, but could not take care of her.