Part 11 out of 31
cold water, so that it might by and by send his thoughts, his frantic
terror, and his memory to sleep again.
In three weeks he had consumed all his stock of ardent spirits. But his
continual drunkenness only lulled his terror, which awoke more furiously
than ever as soon as it was impossible for him to calm it. His fixed
idea then, which had been intensified by a month of drunkenness, and
which was continually increasing in his absolute solitude, penetrated him
like a gimlet. He now walked about the house like a wild beast in its
cage, putting his ear to the door to listen if the other were there and
defying him through the wall. Then, as soon as he dozed, overcome by
fatigue, he heard the voice which made him leap to his feet.
At last one night, as cowards do when driven to extremities, he sprang to
the door and opened it, to see who was calling him and to force him to
keep quiet, but such a gust of cold wind blew into his face that it
chilled him to the bone, and he closed and bolted the door again
immediately, without noticing that Sam had rushed out. Then, as he was
shivering with cold, he threw some wood on the fire and sat down in front
of it to warm himself, but suddenly he started, for somebody was
scratching at the wall and crying. In desperation he called out: "Go
away!" but was answered by another long, sorrowful wail.
Then all his remaining senses forsook him from sheer fright. He
repeated: "Go away!" and turned round to try to find some corner in which
to hide, while the other person went round the house still crying and
rubbing against the wall. Ulrich went to the oak sideboard, which was
full of plates and dishes and of provisions, and lifting it up with
superhuman strength, he dragged it to the door, so as to form a
barricade. Then piling up all the rest of the furniture, the mattresses,
palliasses and chairs, he stopped up the windows as one does when
assailed by an enemy.
But the person outside now uttered long, plaintive, mournful groans, to
which the young man replied by similar groans, and thus days and nights
passed without their ceasing to howl at each other. The one was
continually walking round the house and scraped the walls with his nails
so vigorously that it seemed as if he wished to destroy them, while the
other, inside, followed all his movements, stooping down and holding his
ear to the walls and replying to all his appeals with terrible cries.
One evening, however, Ulrich heard nothing more, and he sat down, so
overcome by fatigue, that he went to sleep immediately and awoke in the
morning without a thought, without any recollection of what had happened,
just as if his head had been emptied during his heavy sleep, but he felt
hungry, and he ate.
The winter was over and the Gemmi Pass was practicable again, so the
Hauser family started off to return to their inn. As soon as they had
reached the top of the ascent the women mounted their mule and spoke
about the two men whom they would meet again shortly. They were, indeed,
rather surprised that neither of them had come down a few days before, as
soon as the road was open, in order to tell them all about their long
winter sojourn. At last, however, they saw the inn, still covered with
snow, like a quilt. The door and the window were closed, but a little
smoke was coming out of the chimney, which reassured old Hauser. On
going up to the door, however, he saw the skeleton of an animal which had
been torn to pieces by the eagles, a large skeleton lying on its side.
They all looked close at it and the mother said:
"That must be Sam," and then she shouted: "Hi, Gaspard!" A cry from the
interior of the house answered her and a sharp cry that one might have
thought some animal had uttered it. Old Hauser repeated, "Hi, Gaspard!"
and they heard another cry similar to the first.
Then the three men, the father and the two sons, tried to open the door,
but it resisted their efforts. From the empty cow-stall they took a beam
to serve as a battering-ram and hurled it against the door with all their
might. The wood gave way and the boards flew into splinters. Then the
house was shaken by a loud voice, and inside, behind the side board which
was overturned, they saw a man standing upright, with his hair falling on
his shoulders and a beard descending to his breast, with shining eyes,
and nothing but rags to cover him. They did not recognize him, but
Louise Hauser exclaimed:
"It is Ulrich, mother." And her mother declared that it was Ulrich,
although his hair was white.
He allowed them to go up to him and to touch him, but he did not reply to
any of their questions, and they were obliged to take him to Loeche,
where the doctors found that he was mad, and nobody ever found out what
had become of his companion.
Little Louise Hauser nearly died that summer of decline, which the
physicians attributed to the cold air of the mountains.
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 5.
By Guy de Maupassant
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
CLAIR DE LUNE
WAITER, A "BOCK"
IN THE SPRING
A QUEER NIGHT IN PARIS
George's father was sitting in an iron chair, watching his little son
with concentrated affection and attention, as little George piled up the
sand into heaps during one of their walks. He would take up the sand
with both hands, make a mound of it, and put a chestnut leaf on top.
His father saw no one but him in that public park full of people.
The sun was just disappearing behind the roofs of the Rue Saint-Lazare,
but still shed its rays obliquely on that little, overdressed crowd.
The chestnut trees were lighted up by its yellow rays, and the three
fountains before the lofty porch of the church had the appearance of
Monsieur Parent, accidentally looking up at the church clock, saw that he
was five minutes late. He got up, took the child by the arm, shook his
dress, which was covered with sand, wiped his hands, and led him in the
direction of the Rue Blanche. He walked quickly, so as not to get in
after his wife, and the child could not keep up with him. He took him up
and carried him, though it made him pant when he had to walk up the steep
street. He was a man of forty, already turning gray, and rather stout.
At last he reached his house. An old servant who had brought him up, one
of those trusted servants who are the tyrants of families, opened the
door to him.
"Has madame come in yet?" he asked anxiously.
The servant shrugged her shoulders:
"When have you ever known madame to come home at half-past six,
"Very well; all the better; it will give me time to change my things, for
I am very warm."
The servant looked at him with angry and contemptuous pity. "Oh, I can
see that well enough," she grumbled. "You are covered with perspiration,
monsieur. I suppose you walked quickly and carried the child, and only
to have to wait until half-past seven, perhaps, for madame. I have made
up my mind not to have dinner ready on time. I shall get it for eight
o'clock, and if, you have to wait, I cannot help it; roast meat ought not
to be burnt!"
Monsieur Parent pretended not to hear, but went into his own room, and as
soon as he got in, locked the door, so as to be alone, quite alone. He
was so used now to being abused and badly treated that he never thought
himself safe except when he was locked in.
What could he do? To get rid of Julie seemed to him such a formidable
thing to do that he hardly ventured to think of it, but it was just as
impossible to uphold her against his wife, and before another month the
situation would become unbearable between the two. He remained sitting
there, with his arms hanging down, vaguely trying to discover some means
to set matters straight, but without success. He said to himself: "It is
lucky that I have George; without him I should-be very miserable."
Just then the clock struck seven, and he started up. Seven o'clock, and
he had not even changed his clothes. Nervous and breathless, he
undressed, put on a clean shirt, hastily finished his toilet, as if he
had been expected in the next room for some event of extreme importance,
and went into the drawing-room, happy at having nothing to fear. He
glanced at the newspaper, went and looked out of the window, and then sat
down again, when the door opened, and the boy came in, washed, brushed,
and smiling. Parent took him up in his arms and kissed him passionately;
then he tossed him into the air, and held him up to the ceiling, but soon
sat down again, as he was tired with all his exertion. Then, taking
George on his knee, he made him ride a-cock-horse. The child laughed and
clapped his hands and shouted with pleasure, as did his father, who
laughed until his big stomach shook, for it amused him almost more than
it did the child.
Parent loved him with all the heart of a weak, resigned, ill-used man.
He loved him with mad bursts of affection, with caresses and with all the
bashful tenderness which was hidden in him, and which had never found an
outlet, even at the early period of his married life, for his wife had
always shown herself cold and reserved.
Just then Julie came to the door, with a pale face and glistening eyes,
and said in a voice which trembled with exasperation: "It is half-past
Parent gave an uneasy and resigned look at the clock and replied: "Yes,
it certainly is half-past seven."
"Well, my dinner is quite ready now."
Seeing the storm which was coming, he tried to turn it aside. "But did
you not tell me when I came in that it would not be ready before eight?"
"Eight! what are you thinking about? You surely do not mean to let the
child dine at eight o'clock? It would ruin his stomach. Just suppose
that he only had his mother to look after him! She cares a great deal
about her child. Oh, yes, we will speak about her; she is a mother!
What a pity it is that there should be any mothers like her!"
Parent thought it was time to cut short a threatened scene. "Julie," he
said, "I will not allow you to speak like that of your mistress. You
understand me, do you not? Do not forget it in the future."
The old servant, who was nearly choked with surprise, turned and went
out, slamming the door so violently after her that the lustres on the
chandelier rattled, and for some seconds it sounded as if a number of
little invisible bells were ringing in the drawing-room.
Eight o'clock struck, the door opened, and Julie came in again. She had
lost her look of exasperation, but now she put on an air of cold and
determined resolution, which was still more formidable.
"Monsieur," she said, "I served your mother until the day of her death,
and I have attended to you from your birth until now, and I think it may
be said that I am devoted to the family." She waited for a reply, and
"Why, yes, certainly, my good Julie."
"You know quite well," she continued, "that I have never done anything
for the sake of money, but always for your sake; that I have never
deceived you nor lied to you, that you have never had to find fault with
"Certainly, my good Julie."
"Very well, then, monsieur; it cannot go on any longer like this. I have
said nothing, and left you in your ignorance, out of respect and liking
for you, but it is too much, and every one in the neighborhood is
laughing at you. Everybody knows about it, and so I must tell you also,
although I do not like to repeat it. The reason why madame comes in at
any time she chooses is that she is doing abominable things."
He seemed stupefied and not to understand, and could only stammer out:
"Hold your tongue; you know I have forbidden you----"
But she interrupted him with irresistible resolution. "No, monsieur, I
must tell you everything now. For a long time madame has been carrying
on with Monsieur Limousin. I have seen them kiss scores of times behind
the door. Ah! you may be sure that if Monsieur Limousin had been rich,
madame would never have married Monsieur Parent. If you remember how the
marriage was brought about, you would understand the matter from
beginning to end."
Parent had risen, and stammered out, his face livid: "Hold your tongue-
hold your tongue, or----"
She went on, however: "No, I mean to tell you everything. She married
you from interest, and she deceived you from the very first day. It was
all settled between them beforehand. You need only reflect for a few
moments to understand it, and then, as she was not satisfied with having
married you, as she did not love you, she has made your life miserable,
so miserable that it has almost broken my heart when I have seen it."
He walked up and down the room with hands clenched, repeating: "Hold your
tongue--hold your tongue----" For he could find nothing else to say.
The old servant, however, would not yield; she seemed resolved on
George, who had been at first astonished and then frightened at those
angry voices, began to utter shrill screams, and remained behind his
father, with his face puckered up and his mouth open, roaring.
His son's screams exasperated Parent, and filled him with rage and
courage. He rushed at Julie with both arms raised, ready to strike her,
exclaiming: "Ah! you wretch. You will drive the child out of his
senses." He already had his hand on her, when she screamed in his face:
"Monsieur, you may beat me if you like, me who reared you, but that will
not prevent your wife from deceiving you, or alter the fact that your
child is not yours----"
He stopped suddenly, let his arms fall, and remained standing opposite to
her, so overwhelmed that he could understand nothing more.
"You need only to look at the child," she added, "to know who is its
father! He is the very image of Monsieur Limousin. You need only look
at his eyes and forehead. Why, a blind man could not be mistaken in
He had taken her by the shoulders, and was now shaking her with all his
might. "Viper, viper!" he said. "Go out the room, viper! Go out, or I
shall kill you! Go out! Go out!"
And with a desperate effort he threw her into the next room. She fell
across the table, which was laid for dinner, breaking the glasses. Then,
rising to her feet, she put the table between her master and herself.
While he was pursuing her, in order to take hold of her again, she flung
terrible words at him.
"You need only go out this evening after dinner, and come in again
immediately, and you will see! You will see whether I have been lying!
Just try it, and you will see." She had reached the kitchen door and
escaped, but he ran after her, up the back stairs to her bedroom, into
which she had locked herself, and knocking at the door, he said:
"You will leave my house this very instant!"
"You may be certain of that, monsieur," was her reply. "In an hour's
time I shall not be here any longer."
He then went slowly downstairs again, holding on to the banister so as
not to fall, and went back to the drawing-room, where little George was
sitting on the floor, crying. He fell into a chair, and looked at the
child with dull eyes. He understood nothing, knew nothing more; he felt
dazed, stupefied, mad, as if he had just fallen on his head, and he
scarcely even remembered the dreadful things the servant had told him.
Then, by degrees, his mind, like muddy water, became calmer and clearer,
and the abominable revelations began to work in his heart.
He was no longer thinking of George. The child was quiet now and sitting
on the carpet; but, seeing that no notice was being taken of him, he
began to cry. His father ran to him, took him in his arms, and covered
him with kisses. His child remained to him, at any rate! What did the
rest matter? He held him in his arms and pressed his lips to his light
hair, and, relieved and composed, he whispered:
"George--my little George--my dear little George----" But he suddenly
remembered what Julie had said! Yes, she had said that he was Limousin's
child. Oh! it could not be possible, surely. He could not believe it,
could not doubt, even for a moment, that he was his own child. It was
one of those low scandals which spring from servants' brains! And he
repeated: "George--my dear little George." The youngster was quiet
again, now that his father was fondling him.
Parent felt the warmth of the little chest penetrate through his clothes,
and it filled him with love, courage, and happiness; that gentle warmth
soothed him, fortified him and saved him. Then he put the small, curly
head away from him a little, and looked at it affectionately, still
repeating: "George! Oh, my little George!" But suddenly he thought:
"Suppose he were to resemble Limousin, after all!" He looked at him with
haggard, troubled eyes, and tried to discover whether there was any
likeness in his forehead, in his nose, mouth, or cheeks. His thoughts
wandered as they do when a person is going mad, and his child's face
changed in his eyes, and assumed a strange look and improbable
The hall bell rang. Parent gave a bound as if a bullet had gone through
him. "There she is," he said. "What shall I do?" And he ran and locked
himself up in his room, to have time to bathe his eyes. But in a few
moments another ring at the bell made him jump again, and then he
remembered that Julie had left, without the housemaid knowing it, and so
nobody would go to open the door. What was he to do? He went himself,
and suddenly he felt brave, resolute, ready for dissimulation and the
struggle. The terrible blow had matured him in a few moments. He wished
to know the truth, he desired it with the rage of a timid man, and with
the tenacity of an easy-going man who has been exasperated.
Nevertheless, he trembled. Does one know how much excited cowardice
there often is in boldness? He went to the door with furtive steps, and
stopped to listen; his heart beat furiously. Suddenly, however, the
noise of the bell over his head startled him like an explosion. He
seized the lock, turned the key, and opening the door, saw his wife and
Limousin standing before him on the stairs.
With an air of astonishment, which also betrayed a little irritation, she
"So you open the door now? Where is Julie?"
His throat felt tight and his breathing was labored as he tried to.
reply, without being able to utter a word.
"Are you dumb?" she continued. "I asked you where Julie is?"
"She--she--has--gone----" he managed to stammer.
His wife began to get angry. "What do you mean by gone? Where has she
By degrees he regained his coolness. He felt an intense hatred rise up
in him for that insolent woman who was standing before him.
"Yes, she has gone altogether. I sent her away."
"You have sent away Julie? Why, you must be mad."
"Yes, I sent her away because she was insolent, and because--because she
was ill-using the child."
"What was she insolent about?"
"Yes, because the dinner was burnt, and you did not come in."
"And she said----"
"She said--offensive things about you--which I ought not--which I could
not listen to----"
"What did she, say?"
"It is no good repeating them."
"I want to hear them."
"She said it was unfortunate for a man like me to be married to a woman
like you, unpunctual, careless, disorderly, a bad mother, and a bad
The young woman had gone into the anteroom, followed by Limousin, who did
not say a word at this unexpected condition of things. She shut the door
quickly, threw her cloak on a chair, and going straight up to her
husband, she stammered out:
"You say? You say? That I am----"
Very pale and calm, he replied: "I say nothing, my dear. I am simply
repeating what Julie said to me, as you wanted to know what it was, and I
wish you to remark that I turned her off just on account of what she
She trembled with a violent longing to tear out his beard and scratch his
face. In his voice and manner she felt that he was asserting his
position as master. Although she had nothing to say by way of reply, she
tried to assume the offensive by saying something unpleasant. "I suppose
you have had dinner?" she asked.
"No, I waited for you."
She shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "It is very stupid of you to
wait after half-past seven," she said. "You might have guessed that I
was detained, that I had a good many things to do, visits and shopping,"
And then, suddenly, she felt that she wanted to explain how she had spent
her time, and told him in abrupt, haughty words that, having to buy some
furniture in a shop a long distance off, very far off, in the Rue de
Rennes, she had met Limousin at past seven o'clock on the Boulevard
Saint-Germain, and that then she had gone with him to have something to
eat in a restaurant, as she did not like to go to one by herself,
although she was faint with hunger. That was how she had dined with
Limousin, if it could be called dining, for they had only some soup and
half a chicken, as they were in a great hurry to get back.
Parent replied simply: "Well, you were quite right. I am not finding
fault with you."
Then Limousin, who, had not spoken till then, and who had been half
hidden behind Henriette, came forward and put out his hand, saying: "Are
you very well?"
Parent took his hand, and shaking it gently, replied: "Yes, I am very
But the young woman had felt a reproach in her husband's last words.
"Finding fault! Why do you speak of finding fault? One might think that
you meant to imply something."
"Not at all," he replied, by way of excuse. "I simply meant that I was
not at all anxious although you were late, and that I did not find fault
with you for it."
She, however, took the high hand, and tried to find a pretext for a
quarrel. "Although I was late? One might really think that it was one
o'clock in the morning, and that I spent my nights away from home."
"Certainly not, my dear. I said late because I could find no other word.
You said you should be back at half-past six, and you returned at half-
past eight. That was surely being late. I understand it perfectly well.
I am not at all surprised, even. But--but--I can hardly use any other
"But you pronounce them as if I had been out all night."
"Oh, no-oh, no!"
She saw that he would yield on every point, and she was going into her
own room, when at last she noticed that George was screaming, and then
she asked, with some feeling: "What is the matter with the child?"
"I told you that Julie had been rather unkind to him."
"What has the wretch been doing to him?"
"Oh nothing much. She gave him a push, and he fell down."
She wanted to see her child, and ran into the dining room, but stopped
short at the sight of the table covered with spilt wine, with broken
decanters and glasses and overturned saltcellars. "Who did all that
mischief?" she asked.
"It was Julie, who----" But she interrupted him furiously:
"That is too much, really! Julie speaks of me as if I were a shameless
woman, beats my child, breaks my plates and dishes, turns my house upside
down, and it appears that you think it all quite natural."
"Certainly not, as I have got rid of her."
"Really! You have got rid of her! But you ought to have given her in
charge. In such cases, one ought to call in the Commissary of Police!"
"But--my dear--I really could not. There was no reason. It would have
been very difficult----"
She shrugged her shoulders disdainfully. "There! you will never be
anything but a poor, wretched fellow, a man without a will, without any
firmness or energy. Ah! she must have said some nice things to you, your
Julie, to make you turn her off like that. I should like to have been
here for a minute, only for a minute." Then she opened the drawing-room
door and ran to George, took him into her arms and kissed him, and said:
"Georgie, what is it, my darling, my pretty one, my treasure?"
Then, suddenly turning to another idea, she said: "But the child has had
no dinner? You have had nothing to eat, my pet?"
Then she again turned furiously upon her husband. "Why, you must be mad,
utterly mad! It is half-past eight, and George has had no dinner!"
He excused himself as best he could, for he had nearly lost his wits
through the overwhelming scene and the explanation, and felt crushed by
this ruin of his life. "But, my dear, we were waiting for you, as I did
not wish to dine without you. As you come home late every day, I
expected you every moment."
She threw her bonnet, which she had kept on till then, into an easy-
chair, and in an angry voice she said: "It is really intolerable to have
to do with people who can understand nothing, who can divine nothing and
do nothing by themselves. So, I suppose, if I were to come in at twelve
o'clock at night, the child would have had nothing to eat? Just as if
you could not have understood that, as it was after half-past seven, I
was prevented from coming home, that I had met with some hindrance!"
Parent trembled, for he felt that his anger was getting the upper hand,
but Limousin interposed, and turning toward the young woman, said:
"My dear friend, you, are altogether unjust. Parent could not guess that
you would come here so late, as you never do so, and then, how could you
expect him to get over the difficulty all by himself, after having sent
But Henriette was very angry, and replied:
"Well, at any rate, he must get over the difficulty himself, for I will
not help him," she replied. "Let him settle it!" And she went into her
own room, quite forgetting that her child had not had anything to eat.
Limousin immediately set to work to help his friend. He picked up the
broken glasses which strewed the table and took them out, replaced the
plates and knives and forks, and put the child into his high chair, while
Parent went to look for the chambermaid to wait at table. The girl came
in, in great astonishment, as she had heard nothing in George's room,
where she had been working. She soon, however, brought in the soup, a
burnt leg of mutton, and mashed potatoes.
Parent sat by the side of the child, very much upset and distressed at
all that had happened. He gave the boy his dinner, and endeavored to eat
something himself, but he could only swallow with an effort, as his
throat felt paralyzed. By degrees he was seized with an insane desire to
look at Limousin, who was sitting opposite to him, making bread pellets,
to see whether George was like him, but he did not venture to raise his
eyes for some time. At last, however, he made up his mind to do so, and
gave a quick, sharp look at the face which he knew so well, although he
almost fancied that he had never examined it carefully. It looked so
different to what he had imagined. From time to time he looked at
Limousin, trying to recognize a likeness in the smallest lines of his
face, in the slightest features, and then he looked at his son, under the
pretext of feeding him.
Two words were sounding in his ears: "His father! his father! his
father!" They buzzed in his temples at every beat of his heart. Yes,
that man, that tranquil man who was sitting on the other side of the
table, was, perhaps, the father of his son, of George, of his little
George. Parent left off eating; he could not swallow any more. A
terrible pain, one of those attacks of pain which make men scream, roll
on the ground, and bite the furniture, was tearing at his entrails, and
he felt inclined to take a knife and plunge it into his stomach.
He started when he heard the door open. His wife came in. "I am
hungry," she said; "are not you, Limousin?"
He hesitated a little, and then said: "Yes, I am, upon my word."
She had the leg of mutton brought in again. Parent asked himself
"Have they had dinner? Or are they late because they have had a lovers'
They both ate with a very good appetite. Henriette was very calm, but
laughed and joked. Her husband watched her furtively. She had on a pink
teagown trimmed with white lace, and her fair head, her white neck and
her plump hands stood out from that coquettish and perfumed dress as
though it were a sea shell edged with foam.
What fun they must be making of him, if he had been their dupe since the
first day! Was it possible to make a fool of a man, of a worthy man,
because his father had left him a little money? Why could one not see
into people's souls? How was it that nothing revealed to upright hearts
the deceits of infamous hearts? How was it that voices had the same
sound for adoring as for lying? Why was a false, deceptive look the same
as a sincere one? And he watched them, waiting to catch a gesture, a
word, an intonation. Then suddenly he thought: "I will surprise them
this evening," and he said:
"My dear, as I have dismissed Julie, I will see about getting another
girl this very day. I will go at once to procure one by to-morrow
morning, so I may not be in until late."
"Very well," she replied; "go. I shall not stir from here. Limousin
will keep me company. We will wait for you." Then, turning to the maid,
she said: "You had better put George to bed, and then you can clear away
and go up to your room."
Parent had got up; he was unsteady on his legs, dazed and bewildered, and
saying, "I shall see you again later on," he went out, holding on to the
wall, for the floor seemed to roll like a ship. George had been carried
out by his nurse, while Henriette and Limousin went into the drawing-
As soon as the door was shut, he said: "You must be mad, surely, to
torment your husband as you do?"
She immediately turned on him: "Ah! Do you know that I think the habit
you have got into lately, of looking upon Parent as a martyr, is very
Limousin threw himself into an easy-chair and crossed his legs. "I am
not setting him up as a martyr in the least, but I think that, situated
as we are, it is ridiculous to defy this man as you do, from morning till
She took a cigarette from the mantelpiece, lighted it, and replied: "But
I do not defy him; quite the contrary. Only he irritates me by his
stupidity, and I treat him as he deserves."
Limousin continued impatiently: "What you are doing is very foolish! I
am only asking you to treat your husband gently, because we both of us
require him to trust us. I think that you ought to see that."
They were close together: he, tall, dark, with long whiskers and the
rather vulgar manners of a good-looking man who is very well satisfied
with himself; she, small, fair, and pink, a little Parisian, born in the
back room of a shop, half cocotte and half bourgeoise, brought up to
entice customers to the store by her glances, and married, in
consequence, to a simple, unsophisticated man, who saw her outside the
door every morning when he went out and every evening when he came home.
"But do you not understand; you great booby," she said, "that I hate him
just because he married me, because he bought me, in fact; because
everything that he says and does, everything that he thinks, acts on my
nerves? He exasperates me every moment by his stupidity, which you call
his kindness; by his dullness, which you call his confidence, and then,
above all, because he is my husband, instead of you. I feel him between
us, although he does not interfere with us much. And then---and then!
No, it is, after all, too idiotic of him not to guess anything! I wish
he would, at any rate, be a little jealous. There are moments when I
feel inclined to say to him: 'Do you not see, you stupid creature, that
Paul is my lover?'
"It is quite incomprehensible that you cannot understand how hateful he
is to me, how he irritates me. You always seem to like him, and you
shake hands with him cordially. Men are very extraordinary at times."
"One must know how to dissimulate, my dear."
"It is no question of dissimulation, but of feeling. One might think
that, when you men deceive one another, you like each other better on
that account, while we women hate a man from the moment that we have
"I do not see why one should hate an excellent fellow because one is
friendly with his wife."
"You do not see it? You do not see it? You all of you are wanting in
refinement of feeling. However, that is one of those things which one
feels and cannot express. And then, moreover, one ought not. No, you
would not understand; it is quite useless! You men have no delicacy of
And smiling, with the gentle contempt of an impure woman, she put both
her hands on his shoulders and held up her lips to him. He stooped down
and clasped her closely in his arms, and their lips met. And as they
stood in front of the mantel mirror, another couple exactly like them
embraced behind the clock.
They had heard nothing, neither the noise of the key nor the creaking of
the door, but suddenly Henriette, with a loud cry, pushed Limousin away
with both her arms, and they saw Parent looking at them, livid with rage,
without his shoes on and his hat over his forehead. He looked at each,
one after the other, with a quick glance of his eyes and without moving
his head. He appeared beside himself. Then, without saying a word, he
threw himself on Limousin, seized him as if he were going to strangle
him, and flung him into the opposite corner of the room so violently that
the other lost his balance, and, beating the air with his hand, struck
his head violently against the wall.
When Henriette saw that her husband was going to murder her lover, she
threw herself on Parent, seized him by the neck, and digging her ten
delicate, rosy fingers into his neck, she squeezed him so tightly, with
all the vigor of a desperate woman, that the blood spurted out under her
nails, and she bit his shoulder, as if she wished to tear it with her
teeth. Parent, half-strangled and choking, loosened his hold on
Limousin, in order to shake off his wife, who was hanging to his neck.
Putting his arms round her waist, he flung her also to the other end of
Then, as his passion was short-lived, like that of most good-tempered
men, and his strength was soon exhausted, he remained standing between
the two, panting, worn out, not knowing what to do next. His brutal fury
had expended itself in that effort, like the froth of a bottle of
champagne, and his unwonted energy ended in a gasping for breath. As
soon as he could speak, however, he said:
"Go away--both of you--immediately! Go away!"
Limousin remained motionless in his corner, against the wall, too
startled to understand anything as yet, too frightened to move a finger;
while Henriette, with her hands resting on a small, round table, her head
bent forward, her hair hanging down, the bodice of her dress unfastened,
waited like a wild animal which is about to spring. Parent continued in
a stronger voice: "Go away immediately. Get out of the house!"
His wife, however, seeing that he had got over his first exasperation
grew bolder, drew herself up, took two steps toward him, and, grown
almost insolent, she said: "Have you lost your head? What is the matter
with you? What is the meaning of this unjustifiable violence?"
But he turned toward her, and raising his fist to strike her, he
stammered out: "Oh--oh--this is too much, too much! I heard everything!
Everything--do you understand? Everything! You wretch--you wretch! You
are two wretches! Get out of the house, both of you! Immediately, or I
shall kill you! Leave the house!"
She saw that it was all over, and that he knew everything; that she could
not prove her innocence, and that she must comply. But all her impudence
had returned to her, and her hatred for the man, which was aggravated
now, drove her to audacity, made her feel the need of bravado, and of
defying him, and she said in a clear voice: "Come, Limousin; as he is
going to turn me out of doors, I will go to your lodgings with you."
But Limousin did not move, and Parent, in a fresh access of rage, cried
out: "Go, will you? Go, you wretches! Or else--or else----" He seized a
chair and whirled it over his head.
Henriette walked quickly across the room, took her lover by the arm,
dragged him from the wall, to which he appeared fixed, and led him toward
the door, saying: "Do come, my friend--you see that the man is mad. Do
As she went out she turned round to her husband, trying to think of
something that she could do, something that she could invent to wound him
to the heart as she left the house, and an idea struck her, one of those
venomous, deadly ideas in which all a woman's perfidy shows itself, and
she said resolutely: "I am going to take my child with me."
Parent was stupefied, and stammered: "Your--your--child? You dare to
talk of your child? You venture--you venture to ask for your child--
after-after--Oh, oh, that is too much! Go, you vile creature! Go!"
She went up to him again, almost smiling, almost avenged already, and
defying him, standing close to him, and face to face, she said: "I want
my child, and you have no right to keep him, because he is not yours--do
you understand? He is not yours! He is Limousin's!"
And Parent cried out in bewilderment: "You lie--you lie--worthless
But she continued: "You fool! Everybody knows it except you. I tell
you, this is his father. You need only look at him to see it."
Parent staggered backward, and then he suddenly turned round, took a
candle, and rushed into the next room; returning almost immediately,
carrying little George wrapped up in his bedclothes. The child, who had
been suddenly awakened, was crying from fright. Parent threw him into
his wife's arms, and then, without speaking, he pushed her roughly out
toward the stairs, where Limousin was waiting, from motives of prudence.
Then he shut the door again, double-locked and bolted it, but had
scarcely got back into the drawing-room when he fell to the floor at full
Parent lived alone, quite alone. During the five weeks that followed
their separation, the feeling of surprise at his new life prevented him
from thinking much. He had resumed his bachelor life, his habits of
lounging, about, and took his meals at a restaurant, as he had done
formerly. As he wished to avoid any scandal, he made his wife an
allowance, which was arranged by their lawyers. By degrees, however, the
thought of the child began to haunt him. Often, when he was at home
alone at night, he suddenly thought he heard George calling out "Papa,"
and his heart would begin to beat, and he would get up quickly and open
the door, to see whether, by chance, the child might have returned, as
dogs or pigeons do. Why should a child have less instinct than an
animal? On finding that he was mistaken, he would sit down in his
armchair again and think of the boy. He would think of him for hours and
whole days. It was not only a moral, but still more a physical
obsession, a nervous longing to kiss him, to hold and fondle him, to take
him on his knees and dance him. He felt the child's little arms around
his neck, his little mouth pressing a kiss on his beard, his soft hair
tickling his cheeks, and the remembrance of all those childish ways made
him suffer as a man might for some beloved woman who has left him.
Twenty or a hundred times a day he asked himself the question whether he
was or was not George's father, and almost before he was in bed every
night he recommenced the same series of despairing questionings.
He especially dreaded the darkness of the evening, the melancholy feeling
of the twilight. Then a flood of sorrow invaded his heart, a torrent of
despair which seemed to overwhelm him and drive him mad. He was as
afraid of his own thoughts as men are of criminals, and he fled before
them as one does from wild beasts. Above all things, he feared his
empty, dark, horrible dwelling and the deserted streets, in which, here
and there, a gas lamp flickered, where the isolated foot passenger whom
one hears in the distance seems to be a night prowler, and makes one walk
faster or slower, according to whether he is coming toward you or
And in spite of himself, and by instinct, Parent went in the direction of
the broad, well-lighted, populous streets. The light and the crowd
attracted him, occupied his mind and distracted his thoughts, and when he
was tired of walking aimlessly about among the moving crowd, when he saw
the foot passengers becoming more scarce and the pavements less crowded,
the fear of solitude and silence drove him into some large cafe full of
drinkers and of light. He went there as flies go to a candle, and he
would sit down at one of the little round tables and ask for a "bock,"
which he would drink slowly, feeling uneasy every time a customer got up
to go. He would have liked to take him by the arm, hold him back, and
beg him to stay a little longer, so much did he dread the time when the
waiter should come up to him and say sharply: "Come, monsieur, it is
He thus got into the habit of going to the beer houses, where the
continual elbowing of the drinkers brings you in contact with a familiar
and silent public, where the heavy clouds of tobacco smoke lull
disquietude, while the heavy beer dulls the mind and calms the heart.
He almost lived there. He was scarcely up before he went there to find
people to distract his glances and his thoughts, and soon, as he felt too
lazy to move, he took his meals there.
After every meal, during more than an hour, he sipped three or four small
glasses of brandy, which stupefied him by degrees, and then his head
drooped on his chest, he shut his eyes, and went to sleep. Then,
awaking, he raised himself on the red velvet seat, straightened his
waistcoat, pulled down his cuffs, and took up the newspapers again,
though he had already seen them in the morning, and read them all through
again, from beginning to end. Between four and five o'clock he went for
a walk on the boulevards, to get a little fresh air, as he used to say,
and then came back to the seat which had been reserved for him, and asked
for his absinthe. He would talk to the regular customers whose
acquaintance he had made. They discussed the news of the day and
political events, and that carried him on till dinner time; and he spent
the evening as he had the afternoon, until it was time to close. That
was a terible moment for him when he was obliged to go out into the dark,
into his empty room full of dreadful recollections, of horrible thoughts,
and of mental agony. He no longer saw any of his old friends, none of
his relatives, nobody who might remind him of his past life. But as his
apartments were a hell to him, he took a room in a large hotel, a good
room on the ground floor, so as to see the passers-by. He was no longer
alone in that great building. He felt people swarming round him, he
heard voices in the adjoining rooms, and when his former sufferings
tormented him too much at the sight of his bed, which was turned down,
and of his solitary fireplace, he went out into the wide passages and
walked up and down them like a sentinel, before all the closed doors, and
looked sadly at the shoes standing in couples outside them, women's
little boots by the side of men's thick ones, and he thought that, no
doubt, all these people were happy, and were sleeping in their warm beds.
Five years passed thus; five miserable years. But one day, when he was
taking his usual walk between the Madeleine and the Rue Drouot, he
suddenly saw a lady whose bearing struck him. A tall gentleman and a
child were with her, and all three were walking in front of him. He
asked himself where he had seen them before, when suddenly he recognized
a movement of her hand; it was his wife, his wife with Limousin and his
child, his little George.
His heart beat as if it would suffocate him, but he did not stop, for he
wished to see them, and he followed them. They looked like a family of
the better middle class. Henriette was leaning on Paul's arm, and
speaking to him in a low voice, and looking at him sideways occasionally.
Parent got a side view of her and recognized her pretty features, the
movements of her lips, her smile, and her coaxing glances. But the child
chiefly took up his attention. How tall and strong he was! Parent could
not see his face, but only his long, fair curls. That tall boy with bare
legs, who was walking by his mother's side like a little man, was George.
He saw them suddenly, all three, as they stopped in front of a shop.
Limousin had grown very gray, had aged and was thinner; his wife, on the
contrary, was as young looking as ever, and had grown stouter. George he
would not have recognized, he was so different from what he had been
They went on again and Parent followed them. He walked on quickly,
passed them, and then turned round, so as to meet them face to face. As
he passed the child he felt a mad longing to take him into his arms and
run off with him, and he knocked against him as if by accident. The boy
turned round and looked at the clumsy man angrily, and Parent hurried
away, shocked, hurt, and pursued by that look. He went off like a thief,
seized with a horrible fear lest he should have been seen and recognized
by his wife and her lover. He went to his cafe without stopping, and
fell breathless into his chair. That evening he drank three absinthes.
For four months he felt the pain of that meeting in his heart. Every
night he saw the three again, happy and tranquil, father, mother, and
child walking on the boulevard before going in to dinner, and that new.
vision effaced the old one. It was another matter, another hallucination
now, and also a fresh pain. Little George, his little George, the child
he had so much loved and so often kissed, disappeared in the far
distance, and he saw a new one, like a brother of the first, a little boy
with bare legs, who did not know him! He suffered terribly at that
thought. The child's love was dead; there was no bond between them; the
child would not have held out his arms when he saw him. He had even
looked at him angrily.
Then, by degrees he grew calmer, his mental torture diminished, the image
that had appeared to his eyes and which haunted his nights became more
indistinct and less frequent. He began once more to live nearly like
everybody else, like all those idle people who drink beer off marble-
topped tables and wear out their clothes on the threadbare velvet of the
He grew old amid the smoke from pipes, lost his hair under the gas
lights, looked upon his weekly bath, on his fortnightly visit to the
barber's to have his hair cut, and on the purchase of a new coat or hat
as an event. When he got to his cafe in a new hat he would look at
himself in the glass for a long time before sitting down, and take it off
and put it on again several times, and at last ask his friend, the lady
at the bar, who was watching him with interest, whether she thought it
Two or three times a year he went to the theatre, and in the summer he
sometimes spent his evenings at one of the open-air concerts in the
Champs Elysees. And so the years followed each other slow, monotonous,
and short, because they were quite uneventful.
He very rarely now thought of the dreadful drama which had wrecked his
life; for twenty years had passed since that terrible evening. But the
life he had led since then had worn him out. The landlord of his cafe
would often say to him: "You ought to pull yourself together a little,
Monsieur Parent; you should get some fresh air and go into the country.
I assure you that you have changed very much within the last few months."
And when his customer had gone out be used to say to the barmaid: "That
poor Monsieur Parent is booked for another world; it is bad never to get
out of Paris. Advise him to go out of town for a day occasionally; he
has confidence in you. Summer will soon be here; that will put him
And she, full of pity and kindness for such a regular customer, said to
Parent every day: "Come, monsieur, make up your mind to get a little
fresh air. It is so charming in the country when the weather is fine.
Oh, if I could, I would spend my life there!"
By degrees he was seized with a vague desire to go just once and see
whether it was really as pleasant there as she said, outside the walls of
the great city. One morning he said to her:
"Do you know where one can get a good luncheon in the neighborhood of
"Go to the Terrace at Saint-Germain; it is delightful there!"
He had been there formerly, just when he became engaged. He made up his
mind to go there again, and he chose a Sunday, for no special reason, but
merely because people generally do go out on Sundays, even when they have
nothing to do all the week; and so one Sunday morning he went to Saint-
Germain. He felt low-spirited and vexed at having yielded to that new
longing, and at having broken through his usual habits. He was thirsty;
he would have liked to get out at every station and sit down in the cafe
which he saw outside and drink a "bock" or two, and then take the first
train back to Paris. The journey seemed very long to him. He could
remain sitting for whole days, as long as he had the same motionless
objects before his eyes, but he found it very trying and fatiguing to
remain sitting while he was being whirled along, and to see the whole
country fly by, while he himself was motionless.
However, he found the Seine interesting every time he crossed it. Under
the bridge at Chatou he saw some small boats going at great speed under
the vigorous strokes of the bare-armed oarsmen, and he thought: "There
are some fellows who are certainly enjoying themselves!" The train
entered the tunnel just before you get to the station at Saint-Germain,
and presently stopped at the platform. Parent got out, and walked
slowly, for he already felt tired, toward the Terrace, with his hands
behind his back, and when he got to the iron balustrade, stopped to look
at the distant horizon. The immense plain spread out before him vast as
the sea, green and studded with large villages, almost as populous as
towns. The sun bathed the whole landscape in its full, warm light. The
Seine wound like an endless serpent through the plain, flowed round the
villages and along the slopes. Parent inhaled the warm breeze, which
seemed to make his heart young again, to enliven his spirits, and to
vivify his blood, and said to himself:
"Why, it is delightful here."
Then he went on a few steps, and stopped again to look about him. The
utter misery of his existence seemed to be brought into full relief by
the intense light which inundated the landscape. He saw his twenty years
of cafe life--dull, monotonous, heartbreaking. He might have traveled as
others did, have gone among foreigners, to unknown countries beyond the
sea, have interested himself somewhat in everything which other men are
passionately devoted to, in arts and science; he might have enjoyed life
in a thousand forms, that mysterious life which is either charming or
painful, constantly changing, always inexplicable and strange. Now,
however, it was too late. He would go on drinking "bock" after "bock"
until he died, without any family, without friends, without hope, without
any curiosity about anything, and he was seized with a feeling of misery
and a wish to run away, to hide himself in Paris, in his cafe and his
lethargy! All the thoughts, all the dreams, all the desires which are
dormant in the slough of stagnating hearts had reawakened, brought to
life by those rays of sunlight on the plain.
Parent felt that if he were to remain there any longer he should lose his
reason, and he made haste to get to the Pavilion Henri IV for lunch, to
try and forget his troubles under--the influence of wine and alcohol, and
at any rate to have some one to speak to.
He took a small table in one of the arbors, from which one can see all
the surrounding country, ordered his lunch, and asked to be served at
once. Then some more people arrived and sat down at tables near him. He
felt more comfortable; he was no longer alone. Three persons were eating
luncheon near him. He looked at them two or three times without seeing
them clearly, as one looks at total strangers. Suddenly a woman's voice
sent a shiver through him which seemed to penetrate to his very marrow.
"George," it said, "will you carve the chicken?"
And another voice replied: "Yes, mamma."
Parent looked up, and he understood; he guessed immediately who those
people were! He should certainly not have known them again. His wife
had grown quite white and very stout, an elderly, serious, respectable
lady, and she held her head forward as she ate for fear of spotting her
dress, although she had a table napkin tucked under her chin. George had
become a man. He had a slight beard, that uneven and almost colorless
beard which adorns the cheeks of youths. He wore a high hat, a white
waistcoat, and a monocle, because it looked swell, no doubt. Parent
looked at him in astonishment. Was that George, his son? No, he did not
know that young man; there could be nothing in common between them.
Limousin had his back to him, and was eating; with his shoulders rather
All three of them seemed happy and satisfied; they came and took luncheon
in the country at well-known restaurants. They had had a calm and
pleasant existence, a family existence in a warm and comfortable house,
filled with all those trifles which make life agreeable, with affection,
with all those tender words which people exchange continually when they
love each other. They had lived thus, thanks to him, Parent, on his
money, after having deceived him, robbed him, ruined him! They had
condemned him, the innocent, simple-minded, jovial man, to all the
miseries of solitude, to that abominable life which he had led, between
the pavement and a bar-room, to every mental torture and every physical
misery! They had made him a useless, aimless being, a waif in the world,
a poor old man without any pleasures, any prospects, expecting nothing
from anybody or anything. For him, the world was empty, because he loved
nothing in the world. He might go among other nations, or go about the
streets, go into all the houses in Paris, open every room, but he would
not find inside any door the beloved face, the face of wife or child
which smiles when it sees you. This idea worked upon him more than any
other, the idea of a door which one opens, to see and to embrace somebody
And that was the fault of those three wretches! The fault of that
worthless woman, of that infamous friend, and of that tall, light-haired
lad who put on insolent airs. Now he felt as angry with the child as he
did with the other two. Was he not Limousin's son? Would Limousin have
kept him and loved him otherwise? Would not Limousin very quickly have
got rid of the mother and of the child if he had not felt sure that it
was his, positively his? Does anybody bring up other people's children?
And now they were there, quite close to him, those three who had made him
suffer so much.
Parent looked at them, irritated and excited at the recollection of all
his sufferings and of his despair, and was especially exasperated at
their placid and satisfied looks. He felt inclined to kill them, to
throw his siphon of Seltzer water at them, to split open Limousin's head
as he every moment bent it over his plate, raising it again immediately.
He would have his revenge now, on the spot, as he had them under his
hand. But how? He tried to think of some means, he pictured such
dreadful things as one reads of in the newspapers occasionally, but could
not hit on anything practical. And he went on drinking to excite
himself, to give himself courage not to allow such an opportunity to
escape him, as he might never have another.
Suddenly an idea struck him, a terrible idea; and he left off drinking to
mature it. He smiled as he murmured: "I have them, I have them! We will
see; we will see!"
They finished their luncheon slowly, conversing with perfect unconcern.
Parent could not hear what they were saying, but he saw their quiet
gestures. His wife's face especially exasperated him. She had assumed a
haughty air, the air of a comfortable, devout woman, of an
unapproachable, devout woman, sheathed in principles, iron-clad in
virtue. They paid their bill and got up from table. Parent then noticed
Limousin. He might have been taken for a retired diplomat, for he looked
a man of great importance, with his soft white whiskers, the tips of
which touched his coat collar.
They walked away. Parent rose and followed them. First they went up and
down the terrace, and calmly admired the landscape, and then they went.
into the forest. Parent followed them at a distance, hiding himself so
as not to excite their suspicion too soon.
Parent came up to them by degrees, breathing hard with emotion and
fatigue, for he was unused to walking now. He soon came up to them, but
was seized with fear, an inexplicable fear, and he passed them, so as to
turn round and meet them face to face. He walked on, his heart beating,
feeling that they were just behind him now, and he said to himself:
"Come, now is the time. Courage! courage! Now is the moment!"
He turned round. They were all three sitting on the grass, at the foot
of a huge tree, and were still chatting. He made up his mind, and walked
back rapidly; stopping in front of them in the middle of tile road, he
said abruptly, in a voice broken by emotion:
"It is I! Here I am! I suppose you did not expect me?"
They all three stared at this man, who seemed to be insane.
"One would suppose that you did not know me again. Just look at me! I
am Parent, Henri Parent. You thought it was all over, and that you would
never see me again. Ah! but here I am once more, you see, and now we
will have an explanation."
Henriette, terrified, hid her face in her hands, murmuring: "Oh! Good
Seeing this stranger, who seemed to be threatening his mother, George
sprang up, ready to seize him by the collar. Limousin, thunderstruck,
looked in horror at this apparition, who, after gasping for breath,
"So now we will have an explanation; the proper moment has come! Ah!
you deceived me, you condemned me to the life of a convict, and you
thought that I should never catch you!"
The young man took him by the shoulders and pushed him back.
"Are you mad?" he asked. "What do you want? Go on your way immediately,
or I shall give you a thrashing!"
"What do I want?" replied Parent. "I want to tell you who these people
George, however, was in a rage, and shook him; and was even going to
"Let me go," said Parent. "I am your father. There, see whether they
recognize me now, the wretches!"
The young man, thunderstruck, unclenched his fists and turned toward his
mother. Parent, as soon as he was released, approached her.
"Well," he said, "tell him yourself who I am! Tell him that my name is
Henri Parent, that I am his father because his name is George Parent,
because you are my wife, because you are all three living on my money, on
the allowance of ten thousand francs which I have made you since I drove
you out of my house. Will you tell him also why I drove you out?
Because I surprised you with this beggar, this wretch, your lover! Tell
him what I was, an honorable man, whom you married for money, and whom
you deceived from the very first day. Tell him who you are, and who I
He stammered and gasped for breath in his rage. The woman exclaimed in a
"Paul, Paul, stop him; make him be quiet! Do not let him say this before
Limousin had also risen to his feet. He said in a very low voice:
"Hold your tongue! Hold your tongue! Do you understand what you are
"I quite know what I am doing," resumed Parent, "and that is not all.
There is one thing that I will know, something that has tormented me for
twenty years." Then, turning to George, who was leaning against a tree
in consternation, he said:
"Listen to me. When she left my house she thought it was not enough to
have deceived me, but she also wanted to drive me to despair. You were
my only consolation, and she took you with her, swearing that I was not
your father, but, that he was your father. Was she lying? I do not
know. I have been asking myself the question for the last twenty years."
He went close up to her, tragic and terrible, and, pulling away her
hands, with which she had covered her face, he continued:
"Well, now! I call upon you to tell me which of us two is the father of
this young man; he or I, your husband or your lover. Come! Come! tell
Limousin rushed at him. Parent pushed him back, and, sneering in his
fury, he said: "Ah! you are brave now! You are braver than you were
that day when you ran downstairs because you thought I was going to
murder you. Very well! If she will not reply, tell me yourself. You
ought to know as well as she. Tell me, are you this young fellow's
father? Come! Come! Tell me!"
He turned to his wife again. "If you will not tell me, at any rate tell
your son. He is a man, now, and he has the right to know who his father
is. I do not know, and I never did know, never, never! I cannot tell
you, my boy."
He seemed to be losing his senses; his voice grew shrill and he worked
his arms about as if he had an epileptic 'fit.
"Come! . . . Give me an answer. She does not know . . . I will
make a bet that she does not know . . . No . . . she does not know,
by Jove! Ha! ha! ha! Nobody knows . . . nobody . . . How can one
know such things?
"You will not know either, my boy, you will not know any more than I do
. . . never. . . . Look here . . . Ask her you will find that
she does not know . . . I do not know either . . . nor does he, nor
do you, nobody knows. You can choose . . . You can choose . . .
yes, you can choose him or me. . . Choose.
"Good evening . . . It is all over. If she makes up her mind to tell
you, you will come and let me know, will you not? I am living at the
Hotel des Continents . . . I should be glad to know . . . Good
evening . . . I hope you will enjoy yourselves very much . . ."
And he went away gesticulating, talking to himself under the tall trees,
in the quiet, the cool air, which was full of the fragrance of growing
plants. He did not turn round to look at them, but went straight on,
walking under the stimulus of his rage, under a storm of passion, with
that one fixed idea in his mind. All at once he found himself outside
the station. A train was about to start and he got in. During the
journey his anger calmed down, he regained his senses and returned to
Paris, astonished at his own boldness, full of aches and pains as if he
had broken some bones. Nevertheless, he went to have a "bock" at his
When she saw him come in, Mademoiselle Zoe asked in surprise: "What!
back already? are you tired?"
"Yes--yes, I am tired . . . very tired . . . You know, when one is
not used to going out. . . I've had enough of it. I shall not go into
the country again. It would have been better to have stayed here. For
the future, I shall not stir out."
She could not persuade him to tell her about his little excursion, much
as she wished to.
For the first time in his life he got thoroughly drunk that night, and
had to be carried home.
In Argenteuil she was called Queen Hortense. No one knew why. Perhaps
it was because she had a commanding tone of voice; perhaps because she
was tall, bony, imperious; perhaps because she governed a kingdom of
servants, chickens, dogs, cats, canaries, parrots, all so dear to an old
maid's heart. But she did not spoil these familiar friends; she had for
them none of those endearing names, none of the foolish tenderness which
women seem to lavish on the soft fur of a purring cat. She governed
these beasts with authority; she reigned.
She was indeed an old maid--one of those old maids with a harsh voice and
angular motions, whose very soul seems to be hard. She never would stand
contradiction, argument, hesitation, indifference, laziness nor fatigue.
She had never been heard to complain, to regret anything, to envy anyone.
She would say: "Everyone has his share," with the conviction of a
fatalist. She did not go to church, she had no use for priests, she
hardly believed in God, calling all religious things "weeper's wares."
For thirty years she had lived in her little house, with its tiny garden
running along the street; she had never changed her habits, only changing
her servants pitilessly, as soon as they reached twenty-one years of age.
When her dogs, cats and birds would die of old age, or from an accident,
she would replace them without tears and without regret; with a little
spade she would bury the dead animal in a strip of ground, throwing a few
shovelfuls of earth over it and stamping it down with her feet in an
She had a few friends in town, families of clerks who went to Paris every
day. Once in a while she would be invited out, in the evening, to tea.
She would inevitably fall asleep, and she would have to be awakened, when
it was time for her to go home. She never allowed anyone to accompany
her, fearing neither light nor darkness. She did not appear to like
She kept herself busy doing countless masculine tasks--carpentering,
gardening, sawing or chopping wood, even laying bricks when it was
She had relatives who came to see her twice a year, the Cimmes and the
Colombels, her two sisters having married, one of them a florist and the
other a retired merchant. The Cimmes had no children; the Colombels had
three: Henri, Pauline and Joseph. Henri was twenty, Pauline seventeen
and Joseph only three.
There was no love lost between the old maid and her relatives.
In the spring of the year 1882 Queen Hortense suddenly fell sick.
The neighbors called in a physician, whom she immediately drove out.
A priest then having presented himself, she jumped out of bed, in order
to throw him out of the house.
The young servant, in despair, was brewing her some tea.
After lying in bed for three days the situation appeared so serious that
the barrel-maker, who lived next door, to the right, acting on advice
from the doctor, who had forcibly returned to the house, took it upon
himself to call together the two families.
They arrived by the same train, towards ten in the morning, the Colombels
bringing little Joseph with them.
When they got to the garden gate, they saw the servant seated in the
chair against the wall, crying.
The dog was sleeping on the door mat in the broiling sun; two cats, which
looked as though they might be dead, were stretched out in front of the
two windows, their eyes closed, their paws and tails stretched out at
A big clucking hen was parading through the garden with a whole regiment
of yellow, downy chicks, and a big cage hanging from the wall and covered
with pimpernel, contained a population of birds which were chirping away
in the warmth of this beautiful spring morning.
In another cage, shaped like a chalet, two lovebirds sat motionless side
by side on their perch.
M. Cimme, a fat, puffing person, who always entered first everywhere,
pushing aside everyone else, whether man or woman, when it was necessary,
"Well, Celeste, aren't things going well?"
The little servant moaned through her tears:
"She doesn't even recognize me any more. The doctor says it's the end."
Everybody looked around.
Mme. Cimme and Mme. Colombel immediately embraced each other, without
saying a word. They locked very much alike, having always worn their
hair in Madonna bands, and loud red French cashmere shawls.
Cimme turned to his brother-in-law, a pale, sal, low-complexioned, thin
man, wasted by stomach complaints, who limped badly, and said in a
serious tone of voice:
"Gad! It was high time."
But no one dared to enter the dying woman's room on the ground floor.
Even Cimme made way for the others. Colombel was the first to make up
his mind, and, swaying from side to side like the mast of a ship, the
iron ferule of his cane clattering on the paved hall, he entered.
The two women were the next to venture, and M. Cimmes closed the
Little Joseph had remained outside, pleased at the sight of the dog.
A ray of sunlight seemed to cut the bed in two, shining just on the
hands, which were moving nervously, continually opening and closing.
The fingers were twitching as though moved by some thought, as though
trying to point out a meaning or idea, as though obeying the dictates of
a will. The rest of the body lay motionless under the sheets. The
angular frame showed not a single movement. The eyes remained closed.
The family spread out in a semi-circle and, without a word, they began to
watch the contracted chest and the short, gasping breathing. The little
servant had followed them and was still crying.
At last Cimme asked:
"Exactly what did the doctor say?"
The girl stammered:
"He said to leave her alone, that nothing more could be done for her."
But suddenly the old woman's lips began to move. She seemed to be
uttering silent words, words hidden in the brain of this dying being, and
her hands quickened their peculiar movements.
Then she began to speak in a thin, high voice, which no one had ever
heard, a voice which seemed to come from the distance, perhaps from the
depths of this heart which had always been closed.
Cimme, finding this scene painful, walked away on tiptoe. Colombel,
whose crippled leg was growing tired, sat down.
The two women remained standing.
Queen Hortense was now babbling away, and no one could understand a word.
She was pronouncing names, many names, tenderly calling imaginary people.
"Come here, Philippe, kiss your mother. Tell me, child, do you love your
mamma? You, Rose, take care of your little sister while I am away. And
don't leave her alone. Don't play with matches!"
She stopped for a while, then, in a louder voice, as though she were
calling someone: "Henriette!" then waited a moment and continued:
"Tell your father that I wish to speak to him before he goes to
business." And suddenly: "I am not feeling very well to-day, darling;
promise not to come home late. Tell your employer that I am sick.
You know, it isn't safe to leave the children alone when I am in bed.
For dinner I will fix you up a nice dish of rice. The little ones like
that very much. Won't Claire be happy?"
And she broke into a happy, joyous laugh, such as they had never heard:
"Look at Jean, how funny he looks! He has smeared jam all over his face,
the little pig! Look, sweetheart, look; isn't he funny?"
Colombel, who was continually lifting his tired leg from place to place,
"She is dreaming that she has children and a husband; it is the beginning
of the death agony."
The two sisters had not yet moved, surprised, astounded.
The little maid exclaimed:
"You must take off your shawls and your hits! Would you like to go into
They went out without having said a word. And Colombel followed them,
limping, once more leaving the dying woman alone.
When they were relieved of their travelling garments, the women finally
sat down. Then one of the cats left its window, stretched, jumped into
the room and on to Mme. Cimme's knees. She began to pet it.
In the next room could be heard the voice of the dying woman, living, in
this last hour, the life for which she had doubtless hoped, living her
dreams themselves just when all was over for her.
Cimme, in the garden, was playing with little Joseph and the dog,
enjoying himself in the whole hearted manner of a countryman, having
completely forgotten the dying woman.
But suddenly he entered the house and said to the girl:
"I say, my girl, are we not going to have luncheon? What do you ladies
wish to eat?"
They finally agreed on an omelet, a piece of steak with new potatoes,
cheese and coffee.
As Mme. Colombel was fumbling in her pocket for her purse, Cimme stopped
her, and, turning to the maid: "Have you got any money?"
"That's enough. Hustle, my girl, because I am beginning to get very
Mme. Cimme, looking out over the climbing vines bathed in sunlight, and
at the two turtle-doves on the roof opposite, said in an annoyed tone of
"What a pity to have had to come for such a sad occasion. It is so nice
in the country to-day."
Her sister sighed without answering, and Colombel mumbled, thinking
perhaps of the walk ahead of him:
"My leg certainly is bothering me to-day:"
Little Joseph and the dog were making a terrible noise; one was shrieking
with pleasure, the other was barking wildly. They were playing hide-and-
seek around the three flower beds, running after each other like mad.
The dying woman continued to call her children, talking with each one,
imagining that she was dressing them, fondling them, teaching them how to
read: "Come on! Simon repeat: A, B, C, D. You are not paying attention,
listen--D, D, D; do you hear me? Now repeat--"
Cimme exclaimed: "Funny what people say when in that condition."
Mme. Colombel then asked:
"Wouldn't it be better if we were to return to her?"
But Cimme dissuaded her from the idea:
"What's the use? You can't change anything. We are just as comfortable
Nobody insisted. Mme. Cimme observed the two green birds called love-
birds. In a few words she praised this singular faithfulness and blamed
the men for not imitating these animals. Cimme began to laugh, looked at
his wife and hummed in a teasing way: "Tra-la-la, tra-la-la" as though to
cast a good deal of doubt on his own, Cimme's, faithfulness:
Colombel was suffering from cramps and was rapping the floor with his
The other cat, its tail pointing upright to the sky, now came in.
They sat down to luncheon at one o'clock.
As soon as he had tasted the wine, Colombel, for whom only the best of
Bordeaux had been prescribed, called the servant back:
"I say, my girl, is this the best stuff that you have in the cellar?"
"No, monsieur; there is some better wine, which was only brought out when
"Well, bring us three bottles of it."
They tasted the wine and found it excellent, not because it was of a
remarkable vintage, but because it had been in the cellar fifteen years.
"That is regular invalid's wine."
Colombel, filled with an ardent desire to gain possession of this
Bordeaux, once more questioned the girl:
"How much of it is left?"
"Oh! Almost all, monsieur; mamz'elle never touched it. It's in the
Then he turned to his brother-in-law:
"If you wish, Cimme, I would be willing to exchange something else for
this wine; it suits my stomach marvellously."
The chicken had now appeared with its regiment of young ones. The two
women were enjoying themselves throwing crumbs to them.
Joseph and the dog, who had eaten enough, were sent back to the garden.
Queen Hortense was still talking, but in a low, hushed voice, so that the
words could no longer be distinguished.
When they had finished their coffee all went in to observe the condition
of the sick woman. She seemed calm.
They went outside again and seated themselves in a circle in the garden,
in order to complete their digestion.
Suddenly the dog, who was carrying something in his mouth, began to run
around the chairs at full speed. The child was chasing him wildly. Both
disappeared into the house.
Cimme fell asleep, his well-rounded paunch bathed in the glow of the
The dying woman once more began to talk in a loud voice. Then suddenly
The two women and Colombel rushed in to see what was the matter. Cimme,
waking up, did not budge, because, he did not wish to witness such a
She was sitting up, with haggard eyes. Her dog, in order to escape being
pursued by little Joseph, had jumped up on the bed, run over the sick
woman, and entrenched behind the pillow, was looking down at his playmate
with snapping eyes, ready to jump down and begin the game again. He was
holding in his mouth one of his mistress' slippers, which he had torn to
pieces and with which he had been playing for the last hour.
The child, frightened by this woman who had suddenly risen in front of
him, stood motionless before the bed.
The hen had also come in, and frightened by the noise, had jumped up on a
chair and was wildly calling her chicks, who were chirping distractedly
around the four legs of the chair.
Queen Hortense was shrieking:
"No, no, I don't want to die, I don't want to! I don't want to! Who
will bring up my children? Who will take care of them? Who will love
them? No, I don't want to!--I don't----"
She fell back. All was over.
The dog, wild with excitement, jumped about the room, barking.
Colombel ran to the window, calling his brother-in-law:
"Hurry up, hurry up! I think that she has just gone."
Then Cimme, resigned, arose and entered the room, mumbling
"It didn't take as long as I thought it would!"
The boulevard, that river of humanity, was alive with people in the
golden light of the setting sun. The whole sky was red, blinding, and
behind the Madeleine an immense bank of flaming clouds cast a shower of
light the whole length of tile boulevard, vibrant as the heat from a
The gay, animated crowd went by in this golden mist and seemed to be
glorified. Their faces were gilded, their black hats and clothes took on
purple tints, the patent leather of their shoes cast bright reflections
on the asphalt of the sidewalk.
Before the cafes a mass of men were drinking opalescent liquids that
looked like precious stones dissolved in the glasses.
In the midst of the drinkers two officers in full uniform dazzled all
eyes with their glittering gold lace. They chatted, happy without asking
why, in this glory of life, in this radiant light of sunset, and they
looked at the crowd, the leisurely men and the hurrying women who left a
bewildering odor of perfume as they passed by.
All at once an enormous negro, dressed in black, with a paunch beneath
his jean waistcoat, which was covered with charms, his face shining as if
it had been polished, passed before them with a triumphant air. He
laughed at the passers-by, at the news venders, at the dazzling sky, at
the whole of Paris. He was so tall that he overtopped everyone else, and
when he passed all the loungers turned round to look at his back.
But he suddenly perceived the officers and darted towards them, jostling
the drinkers in his path. As soon as he reached their table he fixed his
gleaming and delighted eyes upon them and the corners of his mouth
expanded to his ears, showing his dazzling white teeth like a crescent
moon in a black sky. The two men looked in astonishment at this ebony
giant, unable to understand his delight.
With a voice that made all the guests laugh, he said:
"Good-day, my lieutenant."
One of the officers was commander of a battalion, the other was a
colonel. The former said:
"I do not know you, sir. I am at a loss to know what you want of me."
"Me like you much, Lieutenant Vedie, siege of Bezi, much grapes, find
The officer, utterly bewildered, looked at the man intently, trying to
refresh his memory. Then he cried abruptly:
The negro, radiant, slapped his thigh as he uttered a tremendous laugh
"Yes, yes, my lieutenant; you remember Timbuctoo, ya. How do you do?"
The commandant held out his hand, laughing heartily as he did so. Then
Timbuctoo became serious. He seized the officer's hand and, before the
other could prevent it, he kissed it, according to negro and Arab custom.
The officer embarrassed, said in a severe tone:
"Come now, Timbuctoo, we are not in Africa. Sit down there and tell me
how it is I find you here."
Timbuctoo swelled himself out and, his words falling over one another,
"Make much money, much, big restaurant, good food; Prussians, me, much
steal, much, French cooking; Timbuctoo cook to the emperor; two thousand
francs mine. Ha, ha, ha, ha!"
And he laughed, doubling himself up, roaring, with wild delight in his
When the officer, who understood his strange manner of expressing
himself, had questioned him he said:
"Well, au revoir, Timbuctoo. I will see you again."
The negro rose, this time shaking the hand that was extended to him and,
smiling still, cried:
"Good-day, good-day, my lieutenant!"
He went off so happy that he gesticulated as he walked, and people
thought he was crazy.
"Who is that brute?" asked the colonel.
"A fine fellow and a brave soldier. I will tell you what I know about
him. It is funny enough.
"You know that at the commencement of the war of 1870 I was shut up in
Bezieres, that this negro calls Bezi. We were not besieged, but
blockaded. The Prussian lines surrounded us on all sides, outside the
reach of cannon, not firing on us, but slowly starving us out.
"I was then lieutenant. Our garrison consisted of soldier of all
descriptions, fragments of slaughtered regiments, some that had run away,
freebooters separated from the main army, etc. We had all kinds, in fact
even eleven Turcos [Algerian soldiers in the service of France], who
arrived one evening no one knew whence or how. They appeared at the
gates of the city, exhausted, in rags, starving and dirty. They were
handed over to me.
"I saw very soon that they were absolutely undisciplined, always in the
street and always drunk. I tried putting them in the police station,
even in prison, but nothing was of any use. They would disappear,
sometimes for days at a time, as if they had been swallowed up by the
earth, and then come back staggering drunk. They had no money. Where
did they buy drink and how and with what?
"This began to worry me greatly, all the more as these savages interested
me with their everlasting laugh and their characteristics of overgrown
"I then noticed that they blindly obeyed the largest among them, the one
you have just seen. He made them do as he pleased, planned their
mysterious expeditions with the all-powerful and undisputed authority of
a leader. I sent for him and questioned him. Our conversation lasted
fully three hours, for it was hard for me to understand his remarkable
gibberish. As for him, poor devil, he made unheard-of efforts to make
himself intelligible, invented words, gesticulated, perspired in his
anxiety, mopping his forehead, puffing, stopping and abruptly beginning
again when he thought he had found a new method of explaining what he
wanted to say.
"I gathered finally that he was the son of a big chief, a sort of negro
king of the region around Timbuctoo. I asked him his name. He repeated
something like 'Chavaharibouhalikranafotapolara.' It seemed simpler to me
to give him the name of his native place, 'Timbuctoo.' And a week later
he was known by no other name in the garrison.
"But we were all wildly anxious to find out where this African ex-prince
procured his drinks. I discovered it in a singular manner.
"I was on the ramparts one morning, watching the horizon, when I
perceived something moving about in a vineyard. It was near the time of
vintage, the grapes were ripe, but I was not thinking of that. I thought
that a spy was approaching the town, and I organized a complete
expedition to catch the prowler. I took command myself, after obtaining
permission from the general.
"I sent out by three different gates three little companies, which were
to meet at the suspected vineyard and form a cordon round it. In order
to cut off the spy's retreat, one of these detachments had to make at
least an hour's march. A watch on the walls signalled to me that the
person I had seen had not left the place. We went along in profound
silence, creeping, almost crawling, along the ditches. At last we
reached the spot assigned.
"I abruptly disbanded my soldiers, who darted into the vineyard and found
Timbuctoo on hands and knees travelling around among the vines and eating
grapes, or rather devouring them as a dog eats his sop, snatching them in
mouthfuls from the vine with his teeth.
"I wanted him to get up, but he could not think of it. I then understood
why he was crawling on his hands and knees. As soon as we stood him on
his feet he began to wabble, then stretched out his arms and fell down on
his nose. He was more drunk than I have ever seen anyone.
"They brought him home on two poles. He never stopped laughing all the
way back, gesticulating with his arms and legs.
"This explained the mystery. My men also drank the juice of the grapes,
and when they were so intoxicated they could not stir they went to sleep
in the vineyard. As for Timbuctoo, his love of the vineyard was beyond
all belief and all bounds. He lived in it as did the thrushes, whom he
hated with the jealous hate of a rival. He repeated incessantly: 'The
thrushes eat all the grapes, captain!'
"One evening I was sent for. Something had been seen on the plain coming
in our direction. I had not brought my field-glass and I could not
distinguish things clearly. It looked like a great serpent uncoiling
itself--a convoy. How could I tell?
"I sent some men to meet this strange caravan, which presently made its
triumphal entry. Timbuctoo and nine of his comrades were carrying on a
sort of altar made of camp stools eight severed, grinning and bleeding
heads. The African was dragging along a horse to whose tail another head
was fastened, and six other animals followed, adorned in the same manner.
"This is what I learned: Having started out to the vineyard, my Africans
had suddenly perceived a detachment of Prussians approaching a village.
Instead of taking to their heels, they hid themselves, and as soon as the
Prussian officers dismounted at an inn to refresh themselves, the eleven
rascals rushed on them, put to flight the lancers, who thought they were
being attacked by the main army, killed the two sentries, then the
colonel and the five officers of his escort.
"That day I kissed Timbuctoo. I saw, however, that he walked with
difficulty and thought he was wounded. He laughed and said:
"'Me provisions for my country.'
"Timbuctoo was not fighting for glory, but for gain. Everything he found
that seemed to him to be of the slightest value, especially anything that
glistened, he put in his pocket. What a pocket! An abyss that began at
his hips and reached to his ankles. He had retained an old term used by
the troopers and called it his 'profonde,' and it was his 'profonde' in
"He had taken the gold lace off the Prussian uniforms, the brass off
their helmets, detached their buttons, etc., and had thrown them all into
his 'profonde,' which was full to overflowing.
"Each day he pocketed every glistening object that came beneath his
observation, pieces of tin or pieces of silver, and sometimes his contour
was very comical.
"He intended to carry all that back to the land of ostriches, whose
brother he might have been, this son of a king, tormented with the
longing to gobble up all objects that glistened. If he had not had his
'profonde' what would he have done? He doubtless would have swallowed
"Each morning his pocket was empty. He had, then, some general store
where his riches were piled up. But where? I could not discover it.
"The general, on being informed of Timbuctoo's mighty act of valor, had
the headless bodies that had been left in the neighboring village
interred at once, that it might not be discovered that they were
decapitated. The Prussians returned thither the following day. The
mayor and seven prominent inhabitants were shot on the spot, by way of
reprisal, as having denounced the Prussians.
"Winter was here. We were exhausted and desperate. There were
skirmishes now every day. The famished men could no longer march. The
eight 'Turcos' alone (three had been killed) remained fat and shiny,
vigorous and always ready to fight. Timbuctoo was even getting fatter.
He said to me one day:
"'You much hungry; me good meat.'
"And he brought me an excellent filet. But of what? We had no more
cattle, nor sheep, nor goats, nor donkeys, nor pigs. It was impossible
to get a horse. I thought of all this after I had devoured my meat.
Then a horrible idea came to me. These negroes were born close to a
country where they eat human beings! And each day such a number of
soldiers were killed around the town! I questioned Timbuctoo. He would
not answer. I did not insist, but from that time on I declined his
"He worshipped me. One night snow took us by surprise at the outposts.
We were seated, on the ground. I looked with pity at those poor negroes
shivering beneath this white frozen shower. I was very cold and began to
cough. At once I felt something fall on me like a large warm quilt. It
was Timbuctoo's cape that he had thrown on my shoulders.
"I rose and returned his garment, saying:
"'Keep it, my boy; you need it more than I do.'
"'Non, my lieutenant, for you; me no need. Me hot, hot!'
"And he looked at me entreatingly.
"'Come, obey orders. Keep your cape; I insist,' I replied.
"He then stood up, drew his sword, which he had sharpened to an edge like
a scythe, and holding in his other hand the large cape which I had
"'If you not keep cape, me cut. No one cape.'
"And he would have done it. So I yielded.
"Eight days later we capitulated. Some of us had been able to escape,
the rest were to march out of the town and give themselves up to the
"I went towards the exercising ground, where we were all to meet, when I
was dumfounded at the sight of a gigantic negro dressed in white duck and
wearing a straw hat. It was Timbuctoo. He was beaming and was walking
with his hands in his pockets in front of a little shop where two plates
and two glasses were displayed.
"'What are you doing?' I said.
"'Me not go. Me good cook; me make food for Colonel Algeria. Me eat
Prussians; much steal, much.'
"There were ten degrees of frost. I shivered at sight of this negro in
white duck. He took me by the arm and made me go inside. I noticed an
immense flag that he was going to place outside his door as soon as we
had left, for he had some shame."
I read this sign, traced by the hand of some accomplice
"'ARMY KITCHEN OF M. TIMBUCTOO,
"'Formerly Cook to H. M. the Emperor.
"'A Parisian Artist. Moderate Prices.'
"In spite of the despair that was gnawing at my heart, I could not help
laughing, and I left my negro to his new enterprise.
"Was not that better than taking him prisoner?
"You have just seen that he made a success of it, the rascal.
"Bezieres to-day belongs to the Germans. The 'Restaurant Timbuctoo' is
the beginning of a retaliation."
The five friends had finished dinner, five men of the world, mature,
rich, three married, the two others bachelors. They met like this every
month in memory of their youth, and after dinner they chatted until two
o'clock in the morning. Having remained intimate friends, and enjoying
each other's society, they probably considered these the pleasantest
evenings of their lives. They talked on every subject, especially of
what interested and amused Parisians. Their conversation was, as in the
majority of salons elsewhere, a verbal rehash of what they had read in
the morning papers.
One of the most lively of them was Joseph de Bardon, a celibate living
the Parisian life in its fullest and most whimsical manner. He was not a
debauche nor depraved, but a singular, happy fellow, still young, for he
was scarcely forty. A man of the world in its widest and best sense,
gifted with a brilliant, but not profound, mind, with much varied
knowledge, but no true erudition, ready comprehension without true
understanding, he drew from his observations, his adventures, from
everything he saw, met with and found, anecdotes at once comical and
philosophical, and made humorous remarks that gave him a great reputation
for cleverness in society.
He was the after dinner speaker and had his own story each time, upon
which they counted, and he talked without having to be coaxed.
As he sat smoking, his elbows on the table, a petit verre half full
beside his plate, half torpid in an atmosphere of tobacco blended with
steaming coffee, he seemed to be perfectly at home. He said between two
"A curious thing happened to me some time ago."
"Tell it to us," they all exclaimed at once.
"With pleasure. You know that I wander about Paris a great deal, like
book collectors who ransack book stalls. I just look at the sights, at
the people, at all that is passing by and all that is going on.
"Toward the middle of September--it was beautiful weather--I went out one
afternoon, not knowing where I was going. One always has a vague wish to
call on some pretty woman or other. One chooses among them in one's
mental picture gallery, compares them in one's mind, weighs the interest
with which they inspire you, their comparative charms and finally decides
according to the influence of the day. But when the sun is very bright
and the air warm, it takes away from you all desire to make calls.
"The sun was bright, the air warm. I lighted a cigar and sauntered
aimlessly along the outer boulevard. Then, as I strolled on, it occurred
to me to walk as far as Montmartre and go into the cemetery.
"I am very fond of cemeteries. They rest me and give me a feeling of
sadness; I need it. And, besides, I have good friends in there, those
that one no longer goes to call on, and I go there from time to time.
"It is in this cemetery of Montmartre that is buried a romance of my
life, a sweetheart who made a great impression on me, a very emotional,
charming little woman whose memory, although it causes me great sorrow,
also fills me with regrets--regrets of all kinds. And I go to dream
beside her grave. She has finished with life.
"And then I like cemeteries because they are immense cities filled to
overflowing with inhabitants. Think how many dead people there are in
this small space, think of all the generations of Parisians who are
housed there forever, veritable troglodytes enclosed in their little
vaults, in their little graves covered with a stone or marked by a cross,
while living beings take up so much room and make so much noise--