Part 13 out of 31
burst in a flash upon her; this penciled note threw a lurid light upon
her whole existence, revealed the whole infamous truth, all the treachery
and perfidy of which she had been the victim. She understood the long
years of deceit, the way in which she had been made their puppet. She
saw them again, sitting side by side in the evening, reading by lamplight
out of the same book, glancing at each other at the end of each page.
And her poor, indignant, suffering, bleeding heart was cast into the
depths of a despair which knew no bounds.
Footsteps drew near; she fled, and shut herself in her own room.
Presently her husband called her:
"Come quickly! Madame Rosset is dying."
Bertha appeared at her door, and with trembling lips replied:
"Go back to her alone; she does not need me."
He looked at her stupidly, dazed with grief, and repeated:
"Come at once! She's dying, I tell you!"
"You would rather it were I."
Then at last he understood, and returned alone to the dying woman's
He mourned her openly, shamelessly, indifferent to the sorrow of the wife
who no longer spoke to him, no longer looked at him; who passed her life
in solitude, hedged round with disgust, with indignant anger, and praying
night and day to God.
They still lived in the same house, however, and sat opposite each other
at table, in silence and despair.
Gradually his sorrow grew less acute; but she did not forgive him.
And so their life went on, hard and bitter for them both.
For a whole year they remained as complete strangers to each other as if
they had never met. Bertha nearly lost her reason.
At last one morning she went out very early, and returned about eight
o'clock bearing in her hands an enormous bouquet of white roses.
And she sent word to her husband that she wanted to speak to him.
He came-anxious and uneasy.
"We are going out together," she said. "Please carry these flowers; they
are too heavy for me."
A carriage took them to the gate of the cemetery, where they alighted.
Then, her eyes filling with tears, she said to George:
"Take me to her grave."
He trembled, and could not understand her motive; but he led the way,
still carrying the flowers. At last he stopped before a white marble
slab, to which he pointed without a word.
She took the bouquet from him, and, kneeling down, placed it on the
grave. Then she offered up a silent, heartfelt prayer.
Behind her stood her husband, overcome by recollections of the past.
She rose, and held out her hands to him.
"If you wish it, we will be friends," she said.
IN THE SPRING
With the first day of spring, when the awakening earth puts on its
garment of green, and the warm, fragrant air fans our faces and fills our
lungs and appears even to penetrate to our hearts, we experience a vague,
undefined longing for freedom, for happiness, a desire to run, to wander
aimlessly, to breathe in the spring. The previous winter having been
unusually severe, this spring feeling was like a form of intoxication in
May, as if there were an overabundant supply of sap.
One morning on waking I saw from my window the blue sky glowing in the
sun above the neighboring houses. The canaries hanging in the windows
were singing loudly, and so were the servants on every floor; a cheerful
noise rose up from the streets, and I went out, my spirits as bright as
the day, to go--I did not exactly know where. Everybody I met seemed to
be smiling; an air of happiness appeared to pervade everything in the
warm light of returning spring. One might almost have said that a breeze
of love was blowing through the city, and the sight of the young women
whom I saw in the streets in their morning toilets, in the depths of
whose eyes there lurked a hidden tenderness, and who walked with languid
grace, filled my heart with agitation.
Without knowing how or why, I found myself on the banks of the Seine.
Steamboats were starting for Suresnes, and suddenly I was seized by an
unconquerable desire to take a walk through the woods. The deck of the
Mouche was covered with passengers, for the sun in early spring draws one
out of the house, in spite of themselves, and everybody moves about, goes
and comes and talks to his neighbor.
I had a girl neighbor; a little work-girl, no doubt, who possessed the
true Parisian charm: a little head, with light curly hair, which looked
like a shimmer of light as it danced in the wind, came down to her ears,
and descended to the nape of her neck, where it became such fine, light-
colored clown that one could scarcely see it, but felt an irresistible
desire to shower kisses on it.
Under my persistent gaze, she turned her head toward me, and then
immediately looked down, while a slight crease at the side of her mouth,
that was ready to break out into a smile, also showed a fine, silky, pale
down which the sun was gilding a little.
The calm river grew wider; the atmosphere was warm and perfectly still,
but a murmur of life seemed to fill all space.
My neighbor raised her eyes again, and this time, as I was still looking
at her, she smiled decidedly. She was charming, and in her passing
glance I saw a thousand things, which I had hitherto been ignorant of,
for I perceived unknown depths, all the charm of tenderness, all the
poetry which we dream of, all the happiness which we are continually in
search of. I felt an insane longing to open my arms and to carry her off
somewhere, so as to whisper the sweet music of words of love into her
I was just about to address her when somebody touched me on the shoulder,
and as I turned round in some surprise, I saw an ordinary-looking man,
who was neither young nor old, and who gazed at me sadly.
"I should like to speak to you," he said.
I made a grimace, which he no doubt saw, for he added:
"It is a matter of importance."
I got up, therefore, and followed him to the other end of the boat and
then he said:
"Monsieur, when winter comes, with its cold, wet and snowy weather, your
doctor says to you constantly: 'Keep your feet warm, guard against
chills, colds, bronchitis, rheumatism and pleurisy.'
"Then you are very careful, you wear flannel, a heavy greatcoat and thick
shoes, but all this does not prevent you from passing two months in bed.
But when spring returns, with its leaves and flowers, its warm, soft
breezes and its smell of the fields, all of which causes you vague
disquiet and causeless emotion, nobody says to you:
"'Monsieur, beware of love! It is lying in ambush everywhere; it is
watching for you at every corner; all its snares are laid, all its
weapons are sharpened, all its guiles are prepared! Beware of love!
Beware of love! It is more dangerous than brandy, bronchitis or
pleurisy! It never forgives and makes everybody commit irreparable
"Yes, monsieur, I say that the French Government ought to put large
public notices on the walls, with these words: 'Return of spring. French
citizens, beware of love!' just as they put: 'Beware of paint:
"However, as the government will not do this, I must supply its place,
and I say to you: 'Beware of love!' for it is just going to seize you,
and it is my duty to inform you of it, just as in Russia they inform any
one that his nose is frozen."
I was much astonished at this individual, and assuming a dignified
manner, I said:
"Really, monsieur, you appear to me to be interfering in a matter which
is no concern of yours."
He made an abrupt movement and replied:
"Ah! monsieur, monsieur! If I see that a man is in danger of being
drowned at a dangerous spot, ought I to let him perish? So just listen
to my story and you will see why I ventured to speak to you like this.
"It was about this time last year that it occurred. But, first of all,
I must tell you that I am a clerk in the Admiralty, where our chiefs, the
commissioners, take their gold lace as quill-driving officials seriously,
and treat us like forecastle men on board a ship. Well, from my office
I could see a small bit of blue sky and the swallows, and I felt inclined
to dance among my portfolios.
"My yearning for freedom grew so intense that, in spite of my repugnance,
I went to see my chief, a short, bad-tempered man, who was always in a
rage. When I told him that I was not well, he looked at me and said:
'I do not believe it, monsieur, but be off with you! Do you think that
any office can go on with clerks like you?' I started at once and went
down the Seine. It was a day like this, and I took the Mouche, to go as
far as Saint Cloud. Ah! what a good thing it would have been if my chief
had refused me permission to leave the office that day!
"I seemed to myself to expand in the sun. I loved everything--the
steamer, the river, the trees, the houses and my fellow-passengers.
I felt inclined to kiss something, no matter what; it was love, laying
its snare. Presently, at the Trocadero, a girl, with a small parcel in
her hand, came on board and sat down opposite me. She was decidedly
pretty, but it is surprising, monsieur, how much prettier women seem to
us when the day is fine at the beginning of the spring. Then they have
an intoxicating charm, something quite peculiar about them. It is just
like drinking wine after cheese.
"I looked at her and she also looked at me, but only occasionally, as
that girl did at you, just now; but at last, by dint of looking at each
other constantly, it seemed to me that we knew each other well enough to
enter into conversation, and I spoke to her and she replied. She was
decidedly pretty and nice and she intoxicated me, monsieur!
"She got out at Saint-Cloud, and I followed her. She went and delivered
her parcel, and when she returned the boat had just started. I walked by
her side, and the warmth of the 'air made us both sigh. 'It would be
very nice in the woods,' I said. 'Indeed, it would!' she replied.
'Shall we go there for a walk, mademoiselie?'
"She gave me a quick upward look, as if to see exactly what I was like,
and then, after a little hesitation, she accepted my proposal, and soon
we were there, walking side by side. Under the foliage, which was still
rather scanty, the tall, thick, bright green grass was inundated by the
sun, and the air was full of insects that were also making love to one
another, and birds were singing in all directions. My companion began to
jump and to run, intoxicated by the air and the smell of the country, and
I ran and jumped, following her example. How silly we are at times,
"Then she sang unrestrainedly a thousand things, opera airs and the song
of Musette! The song of Musette! How poetical it seemed to me, then!
I almost cried over it. Ah! Those silly songs make us lose our heads;
and, believe me, never marry a woman who sings in the country, especially
if she sings the song of Musette!
"She soon grew tired, and sat down on a grassy slope, and I sat at her
feet and took her hands, her little hands, that were so marked with the
needle, and that filled me with emotion. I said to myself:
"'These are the sacred marks of toil.' Oh! monsieur, do you know what
those sacred marks of toil mean? They mean all the gossip of the
workroom, the whispered scandal, the mind soiled by all the filth that is
talked; they mean lost chastity, foolish chatter, all the wretchedness of
their everyday life, all the narrowness of ideas which belongs to women
of the lower orders, combined to their fullest extent in the girl whose
fingers bear the sacred marks of toil.
"Then we looked into each other's eyes for a long while. Oh! what power
a woman's eye has! How it agitates us, how it invades our very being,
takes possession of us, and dominates us! How profound it seems, how
full of infinite promises! People call that looking into each other's
souls! Oh! monsieur, what humbug! If we could see into each other's
souls, we should be more careful of what we did. However, I was
captivated and was crazy about her and tried to take her into my arms,
but she said: 'Paws off!'. Then I knelt down and opened my heart to her
and poured out all the affection that was suffocating me. She seemed
surprised at my change of manner and gave me a sidelong glance, as if to
say, 'Ah! so that is the way women make a fool of you, old fellow! Very
well, we will see.'
"In love, monsieur, we are always novices, and women artful dealers.
"No doubt I could have had her, and I saw my own stupidity later, but
what I wanted was not a woman's person, it was love, it was the ideal.
I was sentimental, when I ought to have been using my time to a better
"As soon as she had had enough of my declarations of affection, she got
up, and we returned to Saint-Cloud, and I did not leave her until we got
to Paris; but she had looked so sad as we were returning, that at last I
asked her what was the matter. 'I am thinking,' she replied, 'that this
has been one of those days of which we have but few in life.' My heart
beat so that it felt as if it would break my ribs.
"I saw her on the following Sunday, and the next Sunday, and every
Sunday. I took her to Bougival, Saint-Germain, Maisons-Lafitte, Poissy;
to every suburban resort of lovers.
"The little jade, in turn, pretended to love me, until, at last,
I altogether lost my head, and three months later I married her.
"What can you expect, monsieur, when a man is a clerk, living alone,
without any relations, or any one to advise him? One says to one's self:
'How sweet life would be with a wife!'
"And so one gets married and she calls you names from morning till night,
understands nothing, knows nothing, chatters continually, sings the song
of Musette at the, top of her voice (oh! that song of Musette, how tired
one gets of it!); quarrels with the charcoal dealer, tells the janitor
all her domestic details, confides all the secrets of her bedroom to the
neighbor's servant, discusses her husband with the tradespeople and has
her head so stuffed with stupid stories, with idiotic superstitions, with
extraordinary ideas and monstrous prejudices, that I--for what I have
said applies more particularly to myself--shed tears of discouragement
every time I talk to her."
He stopped, as he was rather out of breath and very much moved, and I
looked at him, for I felt pity for this poor, artless devil, and I was
just going to give him some sort of answer, when the boat stopped. We
were at Saint-Cloud.
The little woman who had so taken my fancy rose from her seat in order to
land. She passed close to me, and gave me a sidelong glance and a
furtive smile, one of those smiles that drive you wild. Then she jumped
on the landing-stage. I sprang forward to follow her, but my neighbor
laid hold of my arm. I shook myself loose, however, whereupon he seized
the skirt of my coat and pulled me back, exclaiming: "You shall not go!
you shall not go!" in such a loud voice that everybody turned round and
laughed, and I remained standing motionless and furious, but without
venturing to face scandal and ridicule, and the steamboat started.
The little woman on the landing-stage looked at me as I went off with an
air of disappointment, while my persecutor rubbed his hands and whispered
"You must acknowledge that I have done you a great service."
A QUEER NIGHT IN PARIS
Mattre Saval, notary at Vernon, was passionately fond of music. Although
still young he was already bald; he was always carefully shaven, was
somewhat corpulent as was suitable, and wore a gold pince-nez instead of
spectacles. He was active, gallant and cheerful and was considered quite
an artist in Vernon. He played the piano and the violin, and gave
musicals where the new operas were interpreted.
He had even what is called a bit of a voice; nothing but a bit, very
little bit of a voice; but he managed it with so much taste that cries of
"Bravo!" "Exquisite!" "Surprising!" "Adorable!" issued from every
throat as soon as he had murmured the last note.
He subscribed to a music publishing house in Paris, and they sent him the
latest music, and from time to time he sent invitations after this
fashion to the elite of the town:
"You are invited to be present on Monday evening at the house of M.
Saval, notary, Vernon, at the first rendering of 'Sais.'"
A few officers, gifted with good voices, formed the chorus. Two or three
lady amateurs also sang. The notary filled the part of leader of the
orchestra with so much correctness that the bandmaster of the 190th
regiment of the line said of him, one day, at the Cafe de l'Europe
"Oh! M. Saval is a master. It is a great pity that he did not adopt the
career of an artist."
When his name was mentioned in a drawing-room, there was always somebody
found to declare: "He is not an amateur; he is an artist, a genuine
And two or three persons repeated, in a tone of profound conviction:
"Oh! yes, a genuine artist," laying particular stress on the word
Every time that a new work was interpreted at a big Parisian theatre
M. Saval paid a visit to the capital.
Now, last year, according to his custom, he went to hear Henri VIII. He
then took the express which arrives in Paris at 4:30 P.M., intending to
return by the 12:35 A.M. train, so as not to have to sleep at a hotel.
He had put on evening dress, a black coat and white tie, which he
concealed under his overcoat with the collar turned up.
As soon as he set foot on the Rue d'Amsterdam, he felt himself in quite
jovial mood. He said to himself:
"Decidedly, the air of Paris does not resemble any other air. It has in
it something indescribably stimulating, exciting, intoxicating, which
fills you with a strange longing to dance about and to do many other
things. As soon as I arrive here, it seems to me, all of a sudden, that
I have taken a bottle of champagne. What a life one can lead in this
city in the midst of artists! Happy are the elect, the great men who
make themselves a reputation in such a city! What an existence is
And be made plans; he would have liked to know some of these celebrated
men, to talk about them in Vernon, and to spend an evening with them from
time to time in Paris.
But suddenly an idea struck him. He had heard allusions to little cafes
in the outer boulevards at which well-known painters, men of letters, and
even musicians gathered, and he proceeded to go up to Montmartre at a
He had two hours before him. He wanted to look about him. He passed in
front of taverns frequented by belated bohemians, gazing at the different
faces, seeking to discover the artists. Finally, he came to the sign of
"The Dead Rat," and, allured by the name, he entered.
Five or six women, with their elbows resting on the marble tables, were
talking in low tones about their love affairs, the quarrels of Lucie and
Hortense, and the scoundrelism of Octave. They were no longer young,
were too fat or too thin, tired out, used up. You could see that they
were almost bald; and they drank beer like men.
M. Saval sat down at some distance from them and waited, for the hour for
taking absinthe was at hand.
A tall young man soon came in and took a seat beside him. The landlady
called him M. "Romantin." The notary quivered. Was this the Romantin
who had taken a medal at the last Salon?
The young man made a sign to the waiter.
"You will bring up my dinner at once, and then carry to my new studio,
15 Boulevard de Clichy, thirty bottles of beer, and the ham I ordered
this morning. We are going to have a housewarming."
M. Saval immediately ordered dinner. Then, he took off his overcoat, so
that his dress suit and his white tie could be seen. His neighbor did
not seem to notice him. He had taken up a newspaper, and was reading it.
M. Saval glanced sideways at him, burning with the desire to speak to
Two young men entered, in red vests and with peaked beards, in the
fashion of Henry III. They sat down opposite Romantin.
The first of the pair said:
"Is it for this evening?"
Romantin pressed his hand.
"I believe you, old chap, and everyone will be there. I have Bonnat,
Guillemet, Gervex, Beraud, Hebert, Duez, Clairin, and Jean-Paul Laurens.
It will be a stunning affair! And women, too! Wait till you see! Every
actress without exception--of course I mean, you know, all those who have
nothing to do this evening."
The landlord of the establishment came across.
"Do you often have this housewarming?"
The painter replied:
"I believe you, every three months, each quarter."
M. Saval could not restrain himself any longer, and in a hesitating voice
"I beg your pardon for intruding on you, monsieur, but I heard your name
mentioned, and I would be very glad to know if you really are
M. Romantin, whose work in the last Salon I have so much admired?"
The painter answered:
"I am the very person, monsieur."
The notary then paid the artist a very well-turned compliment, showing
that he was a man of culture.
The painter, gratified, thanked him politely in reply.
Then they chattered. Romantin returned to the subject of his house-
warming, going into details as to the magnificence of the forthcoming
M. Saval questioned him as to all the men he was going to receive,
"It would be an extraordinary piece of good fortune for a stranger to
meet at one time so many celebrities assembled in the studio of an artist
of your rank."
Romantin, vanquished, replied:
"If it would be agreeable to you, come."
M. Saval accepted the invitation with enthusiasm, reflecting:
"I shall have time enough to see Henri VIII."
Both of them had finished their meal. The notary insisted on paying the
two bills, wishing to repay his neighbor's civilities. He also paid for
the drinks of the young fellows in red velvet; then he left the
establishment with the painter.
They stopped in front of a very long, low house, the first story having
the appearance of an interminable conservatory. Six studios stood in a
row with their fronts facing the boulevards.
Romantin was the first to enter, and, ascending the stairs, he opened a
door, and lighted a match and then a candle.
They found themselves in an immense apartment, the furniture of which
consisted of three chairs, two easels, and a few sketches standing on the
ground along the walls. M. Saval remained standing at the door somewhat
The painter remarked:
"Here you are! we've got to the spot; but everything has yet to be done."
Then, examining the high, bare apartment, its ceiling disappearing in the
darkness, he said:
"We might make a great deal out of this studio."
He walked round it, surveying it with the utmost attention, then went on:
"I know someone who might easily give a helping hand. Women are
incomparable for hanging drapery. But I sent her to the country for
to-day in order to get her off my hands this evening. It is not that she
bores me, but she is too much lacking in the ways of good society.
It would be embarrassing to my guests."
He reflected for a few seconds, and then added:
"She is a good girl, but not easy to deal with. If she knew that I was
holding a reception, she would tear out my eyes."
M. Saval had not even moved; he did not understand.
The artist came over to him.
"Since I have invited you, you will assist ma about something."
The notary said emphatically:
"Make any use of me you please. I am at your disposal."
Romantin took off his jacket.
"Well, citizen, to work!' We are first going to clean up."
He went to the back of the easel, on which there was a canvas
representing a cat, and seized a very worn-out broom.
"I say! Just brush up while I look after the lighting."
M. Saval took the broom, inspected it, and then began to sweep the floor
very awkwardly, raising a whirlwind of dust.
Romantin, disgusted, stopped him: "Deuce take it! you don't know how to
sweep the floor! Look at me!"
And he began to roll before him a heap of grayish sweepings, as if he had
done nothing else all his life. Then, he gave bark the broom to the
notary, who imitated him.
In five minutes, such a cloud of dust filled the studio that Rormantin
"Where are you? I can't see you any longer."
M. Saval, who was coughing, came near to him. The painter said:
"How would you set about making a chandelier?"
The other, surprised, asked:
"Why, a chandelier to light the room--a chandelier with wax-candles."
The notary did not understand.
He answered: "I don't know."
The painter began to jump about, cracking his fingers.
"Well, monseigneur, I have found out a way."
Then he went on more calmly:
"Have you got five francs about you?"
M. Saval replied:
The artist said: "Well! you'll go out and buy for me five francs' worth
of wax-candles while I go and see the cooper."
And he pushed the notary in his evening coat into the street. At the end
of five minutes, they had returned, one of them with the wax-candles and
the other with the hoop of a cask. Then Romantin plunged his hand into a
cupboard, and drew forth twenty empty bottles, which he fixed in the form
of a crown around the hoop.
He then went downstairs to borrow a ladder from the janitress, after
having explained that he had made interest with the old woman by painting
the portrait of her cat, exhibited on the easel.
When he returned with the ladder, he said to M. Saval:
"Are you active?"
The other, without understanding, answered:
"Well, you just climb up there, and fasten this chandelier for me to the
ring of the ceiling. Then, you put a wax-candle in each bottle, and
light it. I tell you I have a genius for lighting up. But off with your
coat, damn it! You are just like a Jeames."
The door was opened brusquely. A woman appeared, her eyes flashing, and
remained standing on the threshold.
Romantin gazed at her with a look of terror.
She waited some seconds, crossing her arms over her breast, and then in a
shrill, vibrating, exasperated voice said:
"Ha! you dirty scoundrel, is this the way you leave me?"
Romantin made no reply. She went on:
"Ha! you scoundrel! You did a nice thing in parking me off to the
country. You'll soon see the way I'll settle your jollification. Yes,
I'm going to receive your friends."
She grew warmer.
"I'm going to slap their faces with the bottles and the wax-candles----"
Romantin said in a soft tone:
But she did not pay any attention to him; she went on:
"Wait a little, my fine fellow! wait a little!"
Romantin went over to her, and tried to take her by the hands.
But she was now fairly under way; and on she went, emptying the vials of
her wrath with strong words and reproaches. They flowed out of her mouth
like, a stream sweeping a heap of filth along with it. The words pouring
forth seemed struggling for exit. She stuttered, stammered, yelled,
suddenly recovering her voice to cast forth an insult or a curse.
He seized her hands without her having noticed it. She did not seem to
see anything, so taken up was she in scolding and relieving her feelings.
And suddenly she began to weep. The tears flowed from her eyes, but this
did not stop her complaints. But her words were uttered in a screaming
falsetto voice with tears in it and interrupted by sobs. She commenced
afresh twice or three times, till she stopped as if something were
choking her, and at last she ceased with a regular flood of tears.
Then he clasped her in his arms and kissed her hair, affected himself.
"Mathilde, my little Mathilde, listen. You must be reasonable. You
know, if I give a supper-party to my friends, it is to thank these
gentlemen for the medal I got at the Salon. I cannot receive women. You
ought to understand that. It is not the same with artists as with other
She stammered, in the midst of her tears:
"Why didn't you tell me this?"
"It was in order not to annoy you, not to give you pain. Listen, I'm
going to see you home. You will be very sensible, very nice; you will
remain quietly waiting for me in bed, and I'll come back as soon as it's
"Yes, but you will not begin over again?"
"No, I swear to you!"
He turned towards M. Saval, who had at last hooked on the chandelier:
"My dear friend, I am coming back in five minutes. If anyone arrives in
my absence, do the honors for me, will you not?"
And he carried off Mathilde, who kept drying her eyes with her
handkerchief as she went along.
Left to himself, M. Saval succeeded in putting everything around him in
order. Then he lighted the wax-candles, and waited.
He waited for a quarter of an hour, half an hour, an hour. Romantin did
not return. Then, suddenly there was a dreadful noise on the stairs, a
song shouted out in chorus by twenty mouths and a regular march like that
of a Prussian regiment. The whole house was shaken by the steady tramp
of feet. The door flew open, and a motley throng appeared--men and women
in file, two and two holding each other by the arm and stamping their
heels on the ground to mark time, advanced into the studio like a snake
uncoiling itself. They howled:
"Come, and let us all be merry,
Pretty maids and soldiers gay!"
M. Saval, thunderstruck, remained standing in evening dress under the
chandelier. The procession of revellers caught sight of him, and uttered
"A Jeames! A Jeames!"
And they began whirling round him, surrounding him with a circle of
vociferations. Then they took each other by the hand and went dancing
He attempted to explain:
But they did not listen to him. They whirled about, they jumped, they
At last, the dancing ceased. M. Saval said:
A tall young fellow, fair-haired and bearded to the nose, interrupted
"What's your name, my friend?"
The notary, quite scared, said:
"I am M. Saval."
A voice exclaimed:
"You mean Baptiste."
A woman said:
"Let the poor waiter alone! You'll end by making him get angry. He's
paid to wait on us, and not to be laughed at by us."
Then, M. Saval noticed that each guest had brought his own provisions.
One held a bottle of wine, and the other a pie. This one had a loaf of
bread, and one a ham.
The tall, fair young fellow placed in his hands an enormous sausage, and
"Here, go and arrange the sideboard in the corner over there. Put the
bottles at the left and the provisions at the right."
Saval, getting quite distracted, exclaimed: "But, messieurs, I am a
There was a moment's silence and then a wild outburst of laughter. One
suspicious gentleman asked:
"How came you to be here?"
He explained, telling about his project of going to the opera, his
departure from Vernon, his arrival in Paris, and the way in which he had
spent the evening.
They sat around him to listen to him; they greeted him with words of
applause, and called him Scheherazade.
Romantin did not return. Other guests arrived. M. Saval was presented
to them so that he might begin his story over again. He declined; they
forced him to relate it. They seated and tied him on one of three chairs
between two women who kept constantly filling his glass. He drank; he
laughed; he talked; he sang, too. He tried to waltz with his chair, and
fell on the ground.
From that moment, he forgot everything. It seemed to him, however, that
they undressed him, put him to bed, and that he was nauseated.
When he awoke, it was broad daylight, and he lay stretched with his feet
against a cupboard, in a strange bed.
An old woman with a broom in her hand was glaring angrily at him. At
last, she said:
"Clear out, you blackguard! Clear out! What right has anyone to get
drunk like this?"
He sat up in bed, feeling very ill at ease. He asked:
"Where am I?"
"Where are you, you dirty scamp? You are drunk. Take your rotten
carcass out of here as quick as you can--and lose no time about it!"
He wanted to get up. He found that he was in no condition to do so. His
clothes had disappeared. He blurted out:
"Madame, I---- Then he remembered. What was he to do? He asked:
"Did Monsieur Romantin come back?"
The doorkeeper shouted:
"Will you take your dirty carcass out of this, so that he at any rate may
not catch you here?"
M. Saval said, in a state of confusion:
"I haven't got my clothes; they have been taken away from me."
He had to wait, to explain his situation, give notice to his friends, and
borrow some money to buy clothes. He did not leave Paris till evening.
And when people talk about music to him in his beautiful drawing-room in
Vernon, he declares with an air of authority that painting is a very
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 6.
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
THAT COSTLY RIDE
MY UNCLE SOSTHENES
MOTHER AND SON
A TRESS OF HAIR
ON THE RIVER
THE RONDOLI SISTERS
THAT COSTLY RIDE
The household lived frugally on the meager income derived from the
husband's insignificant appointments. Two children had been born of the
marriage, and the earlier condition of the strictest economy had become
one of quiet, concealed, shamefaced misery, the poverty of a noble
family--which in spite of misfortune never forgets its rank.
Hector de Gribelin had been educated in the provinces, under the paternal
roof, by an aged priest. His people were not rich, but they managed to
live and to keep up appearances.
At twenty years of age they tried to find him a position, and he entered
the Ministry of Marine as a clerk at sixty pounds a year. He foundered
on the rock of life like all those who have not been early prepared for
its rude struggles, who look at life through a mist, who do not know how
to protect themselves, whose special aptitudes and faculties have not
been developed from childhood, whose early training has not developed the
rough energy needed for the battle of life or furnished them with tool or
His first three years of office work were a martyrdom.
He had, however, renewed the acquaintance of a few friends of his family
--elderly people, far behind the times, and poor like himself, who lived
in aristocratic streets, the gloomy thoroughfares of the Faubourg Saint-
Germain; and he had created a social circle for himself.
Strangers to modern life, humble yet proud, these needy aristocrats lived
in the upper stories of sleepy, old-world houses. From top to bottom of
their dwellings the tenants were titled, but money seemed just as scarce
on the ground floor as in the attics.
Their eternal prejudices, absorption in their rank, anxiety lest they
should lose caste, filled the minds and thoughts of these families once
so brilliant, now ruined by the idleness of the men of the family.
Hector de Gribelin met in this circle a young girl as well born and as
poor as himself and married her.
They had two children in four years.
For four years more the husband and wife, harassed by poverty, knew no
other distraction than the Sunday walk in the Champs-Elysees and a few
evenings at the theatre (amounting in all to one or two in the course of
the winter) which they owed to free passes presented by some comrade or
But in the spring of the following year some overtime work was entrusted
to Hector de Gribelin by his chief, for which he received the large sum
of three hundred francs.
The day he brought the money home he said to his wife:
"My dear Henrietta, we must indulge in some sort of festivity--say an
outing for the children."
And after a long discussion it was decided that they should go and lunch
one day in the country.
"Well," cried Hector, "once will not break us, so we'll hire a wagonette
for you, the children and the maid. And I'll have a saddle horse; the
exercise will do me good."
The whole week long they talked of nothing but the projected excursion.
Every evening, on his return from the office, Hector caught up his elder
son, put him astride his leg, and, making him bounce up and down as hard
as he could, said:
"That's how daddy will gallop next Sunday."
And the youngster amused himself all day long by bestriding chairs,
dragging them round the room and shouting:
"This is daddy on horseback!"
The servant herself gazed at her master with awestruck eyes as she
thought of him riding alongside the carriage, and at meal-times she
listened with all her ears while he spoke of riding and recounted the
exploits of his youth, when he lived at home with his father. Oh, he had
learned in a good school, and once he felt his steed between his legs he
feared nothing--nothing whatever!
Rubbing his hands, he repeated gaily to his wife:
"If only they would give me a restive animal I should be all the better
pleased. You'll see how well I can ride; and if you like we'll come back
by the Champs-Elysees just as all the people are returning from the Bois.
As we shall make a good appearance, I shouldn't at all object to meeting
some one from the ministry. That is all that is necessary to insure the
respect of one's chiefs."
On the day appointed the carriage and the riding horse arrived at the
same moment before the door. Hector went down immediately to examine his
mount. He had had straps sewn to his trousers and flourished in his hand
a whip he had bought the evening before.
He raised the horse's legs and felt them one after another, passed his
hand over the animal's neck, flank and hocks, opened his mouth, examined
his teeth, declared his age; and then, the whole household having
collected round him, he delivered a discourse on the horse in general and
the specimen before him in particular, pronouncing the latter excellent
in every respect.
When the rest of the party had taken their seats in the carriage he
examined the saddle-girth; then, putting his foot in the stirrup, he
sprang to the saddle. The animal began to curvet and nearly threw his
Hector, not altogether at his ease, tried to soothe him:
"Come, come, good horse, gently now!"
Then, when the horse had recovered his equanimity and the rider his
nerve, the latter asked:
"Are you ready?"
The occupants of the carriage replied with one voice:
"Forward!" he commanded.
And the cavalcade set out.
All looks were centered on him. He trotted in the English style, rising
unnecessarily high in the saddle; looking at times as if he were mounting
into space. Sometimes he seemed on the point of falling forward on the
horse's mane; his eyes were fixed, his face drawn, his cheeks pale.
His wife, holding one of the children on her knees, and the servant, who
was carrying the other, continually cried out:
"Look at papa! look at papa!"
And the two boys, intoxicated by the motion of the carriage, by their
delight and by the keen air, uttered shrill cries. The horse, frightened
by the noise they made, started off at a gallop, and while Hector was
trying to control his steed his hat fell off, and the driver had to get
down and pick it up. When the equestrian had recovered it he called to
his wife from a distance:
"Don't let the children shout like that! They'll make the horse bolt!"
They lunched on the grass in the Vesinet woods, having brought provisions
with them in the carriage.
Although the driver was looking after the three horses, Hector rose every
minute to see if his own lacked anything; he patted him on the neck and
fed him with bread, cakes and sugar.
"He's an unequal trotter," he declared. "He certainly shook me up a
little at first, but, as you saw, I soon got used to it. He knows his
master now and won't give any more trouble."
As had been decided, they returned by the Champs-Elysees.
That spacious thoroughfare literally swarmed with vehicles of every kind,
and on the sidewalks the pedestrians were so numerous that they looked
like two indeterminate black ribbons unfurling their length from the Arc
de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. A flood of sunlight played on
this gay scene, making the varnish of the carriages, the steel of the
harness and the handles of the carriage doors shine with dazzling
An intoxication of life and motion seemed to have invaded this assemblage
of human beings, carriages and horses. In the distance the outlines of
the Obelisk could be discerned in a cloud of golden vapor.
As soon as Hector's horse had passed the Arc de Triomphe he became
suddenly imbued with fresh energy, and, realizing that his stable was not
far off, began to trot rapidly through the maze of wheels, despite all
his rider's efforts to restrain him.
The carriage was now far behind. When the horse arrived opposite the
Palais de l'Industrie he saw a clear field before him, and, turning to
the right, set off at a gallop.
An old woman wearing an apron was crossing the road in leisurely fashion.
She happened to be just in Hector's way as he arrived on the scene riding
at full speed. Powerless to control his mount, he shouted at the top of
"Hi! Look out there! Hi!"
She must have been deaf, for she continued peacefully on her way until
the awful moment when, struck by the horse's chest as by a locomotive
under full steam, she rolled ten paces off, turning three somersaults on
Hector, frantic with terror, clung to the horse's mane and shouted:
A terrible jolt hurled him, as if shot from a gun, over his horse's ears
and cast him into the arms of a policeman who was running up to stop him.
In the space of a second a furious, gesticulating, vociferating group had
gathered round him. An old gentleman with a white mustache, wearing a
large round decoration, seemed particularly exasperated. He repeated:
"Confound it! When a man is as awkward as all that he should remain at
home and not come killing people in the streets, if he doesn't know how
to handle a horse."
Four men arrived on the scene, carrying the old woman. She appeared to
be dead. Her skin was like parchment, her cap on one side and she was
covered with dust.
"Take her to a druggist's," ordered the old gentleman, "and let us go to
the commissary of police."
Hector started on his way with a policeman on either side of him, a third
was leading his horse. A crowd followed them--and suddenly the wagonette
appeared in sight. His wife alighted in consternation, the servant lost
her head, the children whimpered. He explained that he would soon be at
home, that he had knocked a woman down and that there was not much the
matter. And his family, distracted with anxiety, went on their way.
When they arrived before the commissary the explanation took place in few
words. He gave his name--Hector de Gribelin, employed at the Ministry of
Marine; and then they awaited news of the injured woman. A policeman who
had been sent to obtain information returned, saying that she had
recovered consciousness, but was complaining of frightful internal pain.
She was a charwoman, sixty-five years of age, named Madame Simon.
When he heard that she was not dead Hector regained hope and promised to
defray her doctor's bill. Then he hastened to the druggist's. The door
way was thronged; the injured woman, huddled in an armchair, was
groaning. Her arms hung at her sides, her face was drawn. Two doctors
were still engaged in examining her. No bones were broken, but they
feared some internal lesion.
Hector addressed her:
"Do you suffer much?"
"Where is the pain?"
"I feel as if my stomach were on fire."
A doctor approached.
"Are you the gentleman who caused the accident?"
"This woman ought to be sent to a home. I know one where they would take
her at six francs a day. Would you like me to send her there?"
Hector was delighted at the idea, thanked him and returned home much
His wife, dissolved in tears, was awaiting him. He reassured her.
"It's all right. This Madame Simon is better already and will be quite
well in two or three days. I have sent her to a home. It's all right."
When he left his office the next day he went to inquire for Madame Simon.
He found her eating rich soup with an air of great satisfaction.
"Well?" said he.
"Oh, sir," she replied, "I'm just the same. I feel sort of crushed--not
a bit better."
The doctor declared they must wait and see; some complication or other
Hector waited three days, then he returned. The old woman, fresh-faced
and clear-eyed, began to whine when she saw him:
"I can't move, sir; I can't move a bit. I shall be like this for the
rest of my days."
A shudder passed through Hector's frame. He asked for the doctor, who
merely shrugged his shoulders and said:
"What can I do? I can't tell what's wrong with her. She shrieks when
they try to raise her. They can't even move her chair from one place to
another without her uttering the most distressing cries. I am bound to
believe what she tells me; I can't look into her inside. So long as I
have no chance of seeing her walk I am not justified in supposing her to
be telling lies about herself."
The old woman listened, motionless, a malicious gleam in her eyes.
A week passed, then a fortnight, then a month. Madame Simon did not
leave her armchair. She ate from morning to night, grew fat, chatted
gaily with the other patients and seemed to enjoy her immobility as if it
were the rest to which she was entitled after fifty years of going up and
down stairs, of turning mattresses, of carrying coal from one story to
another, of sweeping and dusting.
Hector, at his wits' end, came to see her every day. Every day he found
her calm and serene, declaring:
"I can't move, sir; I shall never be able to move again."
Every evening Madame de Gribelin, devoured with anxiety, said:
"How is Madame Simon?"
And every time he replied with a resignation born of despair:
"Just the same; no change whatever."
They dismissed the servant, whose wages they could no longer afford.
They economized more rigidly than ever. The whole of the extra pay had
been swallowed up.
Then Hector summoned four noted doctors, who met in consultation over the
old woman. She let them examine her, feel her, sound her, watching them
the while with a cunning eye.
"We must make her walk," said one.
"But, sirs, I can't!" she cried. "I can't move!"
Then they took hold of her, raised her and dragged her a short distance,
but she slipped from their grasp and fell to the floor, groaning and
giving vent to such heartrending cries that they carried her back to her
seat with infinite care and precaution.
They pronounced a guarded opinion--agreeing, however, that work was an
impossibility to her.
And when Hector brought this news to his wife she sank on a chair,
"It would be better to bring her here; it would cost us less."
He started in amazement.
"Here? In our own house? How can you think of such a thing?"
But she, resigned now to anything, replied with tears in her eyes:
"But what can we do, my love? It's not my fault!"
About half-past five one afternoon at the end of June when the sun was
shining warm and bright into the large courtyard, a very elegant victoria
with two beautiful black horses drew up in front of the mansion.
The Comtesse de Mascaret came down the steps just as her husband, who was
coming home, appeared in the carriage entrance. He stopped for a few
moments to look at his wife and turned rather pale. The countess was
very beautiful, graceful and distinguished looking, with her long oval
face, her complexion like yellow ivory, her large gray eyes and her black
hair; and she got into her carriage without looking at him, without even
seeming to have noticed him, with such a particularly high-bred air, that
the furious jealousy by which he had been devoured for so long again
gnawed at his heart. He went up to her and said: "You are going for a
She merely replied disdainfully: "You see I am!"
"In the Bois de Boulogne?"
"May I come with you?"
"The carriage belongs to you."
Without being surprised at the tone in which she answered him, he got in
and sat down by his wife's side and said: "Bois de Boulogne." The
footman jumped up beside the coachman, and the horses as usual pranced
and tossed their heads until they were in the street. Husband and wife
sat side by side without speaking. He was thinking how to begin a
conversation, but she maintained such an obstinately hard look that he
did not venture to make the attempt. At last, however, he cunningly,
accidentally as it were, touched the countess' gloved hand with his own,
but she drew her arm away with a movement which was so expressive of
disgust that he remained thoughtful, in spite of his usual authoritative
and despotic character, and he said: "Gabrielle!"
"What do you want?"
"I think you are looking adorable."
She did not reply, but remained lying back in the carriage, looking like
an irritated queen. By that time they were driving up the Champs
Elysees, toward the Arc de Triomphe. That immense monument, at the end
of the long avenue, raised its colossal arch against the red sky and the
sun seemed to be descending on it, showering fiery dust on it from the
The stream of carriages, with dashes of sunlight reflected in the silver
trappings of the harness and the glass of the lamps, flowed on in a
double current toward the town and toward the Bois, and the Comte de
Mascaret continued: "My dear Gabrielle!"
Unable to control herself any longer, she replied in an exasperated
voice: "Oh! do leave me in peace, pray! I am not even allowed to have
my carriage to myself now." He pretended not to hear her and continued:
"You never have looked so pretty as you do to-day."
Her patience had come to an end, and she replied with irrepressible
anger: "You are wrong to notice it, for I swear to you that I will never
have anything to do with you in that way again."
The count was decidedly stupefied and upset, and, his violent nature
gaining the upper hand, he exclaimed: "What do you mean by that?" in a
tone that betrayed rather the brutal master than the lover. She replied
in a low voice, so that the servants might not hear amid the deafening
noise of the wheels: "Ah! What do I mean by that? What do I mean by
that? Now I recognize you again! Do you want me to tell everything?"
"Everything that has weighed on my heart since I have been the victim of
your terrible selfishness?"
He had grown red with surprise and anger and he growled between his
closed teeth: "Yes, tell me everything."
He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a big red beard, a handsome
man, a nobleman, a man of the world, who passed as a perfect husband and
an excellent father, and now, for the first time since they had started,
she turned toward him and looked him full in the face: "Ah! You will
hear some disagreeable things, but you must know that I am prepared for
everything, that I fear nothing, and you less than any one to-day."
He also was looking into her eyes and was already shaking with rage as he
said in a low voice: "You are mad."
"No, but I will no longer be the victim of the hateful penalty of
maternity, which you have inflicted on me for eleven years! I wish to
take my place in society as I have the right to do, as all women have the
right to do."
He suddenly grew pale again and stammered: "I do not understand you."
"Oh! yes; you understand me well enough. It is now three months since I
had my last child, and as I am still very beautiful, and as, in spite of
all your efforts you cannot spoil my figure, as you just now perceived,
when you saw me on the doorstep, you think it is time that I should think
of having another child."
"But you are talking nonsense!"
"No, I am not, I am thirty, and I have had seven children, and we have
been married eleven years, and you hope that this will go on for ten
years longer, after which you will leave off being jealous."
He seized her arm and squeezed it, saying: "I will not allow you to talk
to me like that much longer."
"And I shall talk to you till the end, until I have finished all I have
to say to you, and if you try to prevent me, I shall raise my voice so
that the two servants, who are on the box, may hear. I only allowed you
to come with me for that object, for I have these witnesses who will
oblige you to listen to me and to contain yourself, so now pay attention
to what I say. I have always felt an antipathy to you, and I have always
let you see it, for I have never lied, monsieur. You married me in spite
of myself; you forced my parents, who were in embarrassed circumstances,
to give me to you, because you were rich, and they obliged me to marry
you in spite of my tears.
"So you bought me, and as soon as I was in your power, as soon as I had
become your companion, ready to attach myself to you, to forget your
coercive and threatening proceedings, in order that I might only remember
that I ought to be a devoted wife and to love you as much as it might be
possible for me to love you, you became jealous, you, as no man has ever
been before, with the base, ignoble jealousy of a spy, which was as
degrading to you as it was to me. I had not been married eight months
when you suspected me of every perfidiousness, and you even told me so.
What a disgrace! And as you could not prevent me from being beautiful
and from pleasing people, from being called in drawing-rooms and also in
the newspapers one of the most beautiful women in Paris, you tried
everything you could think of to keep admirers from me, and you hit upon
the abominable idea of making me spend my life in a constant state of
motherhood, until the time should come when I should disgust every man.
Oh, do not deny it. I did not understand it for some time, but then I
guessed it. You even boasted about it to your sister, who told me of it,
for she is fond of me and was disgusted at your boorish coarseness.
"Ah! Remember how you have behaved in the past! How for eleven years
you have compelled me to give up all society and simply be a mother to
your children. And then you would grow disgusted with me and I was sent
into the country, the family chateau, among fields and meadows. And when
I reappeared, fresh, pretty and unspoiled, still seductive and constantly
surrounded by admirers, hoping that at last I should live a little more
like a rich young society woman, you were seized with jealousy again, and
you began once more to persecute me with that infamous and hateful desire
from which you are suffering at this moment by my side. And it is not
the desire of possessing me--for I should never have refused myself to
you, but it is the wish to make me unsightly.
"And then that abominable and mysterious thing occurred which I was a
long time in understanding (but I grew sharp by dint of watching your
thoughts and actions): You attached yourself to your children with all
the security which they gave you while I bore them. You felt affection
for them, with all your aversion to me, and in spite of your ignoble
fears, which were momentarily allayed by your pleasure in seeing me lose
"Oh! how often have I noticed that joy in you! I have seen it in your
eyes and guessed it. You loved your children as victories, and not
because they were of your own blood. They were victories over me, over
my youth, over my beauty, over my charms, over the compliments which were
paid me and over those that were whispered around me without being paid
to me personally. And you are proud of them, you make a parade of them,
you take them out for drives in your break in the Bois de Boulogne and
you give them donkey rides at Montmorency. You take them to theatrical
matinees so that you may be seen in the midst of them, so that the people
may say: 'What a kind father' and that it may be repeated----"
He had seized her wrist with savage brutality, and he squeezed it so
violently that she was quiet and nearly cried out with the pain and he
said to her in a whisper:
"I love my children, do you hear? What you have just told me is
disgraceful in a mother. But you belong to me; I am master--your master
--I can exact from you what I like and when I like--and I have the law-on
He was trying to crush her fingers in the strong grip of his large,
muscular hand, and she, livid with pain, tried in vain to free them from
that vise which was crushing them. The agony made her breathe hard and
the tears came into her eyes. "You see that I am the master and the
stronger," he said. When he somewhat loosened his grip, she asked him:
"Do you think that I am a religious woman?"
He was surprised and stammered "Yes."
"Do you think that I could lie if I swore to the truth of anything to you
before an altar on which Christ's body is?"
"Will you go with me to some church?"
"You shall see. Will you?"
"If you absolutely wish it, yes."
She raised her voice and said: "Philippe!" And the coachman, bending down
a little, without taking his eyes from his horses, seemed to turn his ear
alone toward his mistress, who continued: "Drive to St. Philippe-du-
Roule." And the-victoria, which had reached the entrance of the Bois de
Boulogne returned to Paris.
Husband and wife did not exchange a word further during the drive, and
when the carriage stopped before the church Madame de Mascaret jumped out
and entered it, followed by the count, a few yards distant. She went,
without stopping, as far as the choir-screen, and falling on her knees at
a chair, she buried her face in her hands. She prayed for a long time,
and he, standing behind her could see that she was crying. She wept
noiselessly, as women weep when they are in great, poignant grief. There
was a kind of undulation in her body, which ended in a little sob, which
was hidden and stifled by her fingers.
But the Comte de Mascaret thought that the situation was lasting too
long, and he touched her on the shoulder. That contact recalled her to
herself, as if she had been burned, and getting up, she looked straight
into his eyes. "This is what I have to say to you. I am afraid of
nothing, whatever you may do to me. You may kill me if you like. One of
your children is not yours, and one only; that I swear to you before God,
who hears me here. That was the only revenge that was possible for me in
return for all your abominable masculine tyrannies, in return for the
penal servitude of childbearing to which you have condemned me. Who was
my lover? That you never will know! You may suspect every one, but you
never will find out. I gave myself to him, without love and without
pleasure, only for the sake of betraying you, and he also made me a
mother. Which is the child? That also you never will know. I have
seven; try to find out! I intended to tell you this later, for one has
not avenged oneself on a man by deceiving him, unless he knows it. You
have driven me to confess it today. I have now finished."
She hurried through the church toward the open door, expecting to hear
behind her the quick step: of her husband whom she had defied and to be
knocked to the ground by a blow of his fist, but she heard nothing and
reached her carriage. She jumped into it at a bound, overwhelmed with
anguish and breathless with fear. So she called out to the coachman:
"Home!" and the horses set off at a quick trot.
The Comtesse de Mascaret was waiting in her room for dinner time as a
criminal sentenced to death awaits the hour of his execution. What was
her husband going to do? Had he come home? Despotic, passionate, ready
for any violence as he was, what was he meditating, what had he made up
his mind to do? There was no sound in the house, and every moment she
looked at the clock. Her lady's maid had come and dressed her for the
evening and had then left the room again. Eight o'clock struck and
almost at the same moment there were two knocks at the door, and the
butler came in and announced dinner.
"Has the count come in?"
"Yes, Madame la Comtesse. He is in the diningroom."
For a little moment she felt inclined to arm herself with a small
revolver which she had bought some time before, foreseeing the tragedy
which was being rehearsed in her heart. But she remembered that all the
children would be there, and she took nothing except a bottle of smelling
salts. He rose somewhat ceremoniously from his chair. They exchanged a
slight bow and sat down. The three boys with their tutor, Abbe Martin,
were on her right and the three girls, with Miss Smith, their English
governess, were on her left. The youngest child, who was only three
months old, remained upstairs with his nurse.
The abbe said grace as usual when there was no company, for the children
did not come down to dinner when guests were present. Then they began
dinner. The countess, suffering from emotion, which she had not
calculated upon, remained with her eyes cast down, while the count
scrutinized now the three boys and now the three girls. with an
uncertain, unhappy expression, which travelled from one to the other.
Suddenly pushing his wineglass from him, it broke, and the wine was spilt
on the tablecloth, and at the slight noise caused by this little accident
the countess started up from her chair; and for the first time they
looked at each other. Then, in spite of themselves, in spite of the
irritation of their nerves caused by every glance, they continued to
exchange looks, rapid as pistol shots.
The abbe, who felt that there was some cause for embarrassment which he
could not divine, attempted to begin a conversation and tried various
subjects, but his useless efforts gave rise to no ideas and did not bring
out a word. The countess, with feminine tact and obeying her instincts
of a woman of the world, attempted to answer him two or three times, but
in vain. She could not find words, in the perplexity of her mind, and
her own voice almost frightened her in the silence of the large room,
where nothing was heard except the slight sound of plates and knives and
Suddenly her husband said to her, bending forward: "Here, amid your
children, will you swear to me that what you told me just now is true?"
The hatred which was fermenting in her veins suddenly roused her, and
replying to that question with the same firmness with which she had
replied to his looks, she raised both her hands, the right pointing
toward the boys and the left toward the girls, and said in a firm,
resolute voice and without any hesitation: "On the head of my children,
I swear that I have told you the truth."
He got up and throwing his table napkin on the table with a movement of
exasperation, he turned round and flung his chair against the wall, and
then went out without another word, while she, uttering a deep sigh, as
if after a first victory, went on in a calm voice: "You must not pay any
attention to what your father has just said, my darlings; he was very
much upset a short time ago, but he will be all right again in a few
Then she talked with the abbe and Miss Smith and had tender, pretty words
for all her children, those sweet, tender mother's ways which unfold
When dinner was over she went into the drawing-room, all her children
following her. She made the elder ones chatter, and when their bedtime
came she kissed them for a long time and then went alone into her room.
She waited, for she had no doubt that the count would come, and she made
up her mind then, as her children were not with her, to protect herself
as a woman of the world as she would protect her life, and in the pocket
of her dress she put the little loaded revolver which she had bought a
few days previously. The hours went by, the hours struck, and every
sound was hushed in the house. Only the cabs, continued to rumble
through the streets, but their noise was only heard vaguely through the
shuttered and curtained windows.
She waited, full of nervous energy, without any fear of him now, ready
for anything, and almost triumphant, for she had found means of torturing
him continually during every moment of his life.
But the first gleam of dawn came in through the fringe at the bottom of
her curtain without his having come into her room, and then she awoke to
the fact, with much amazement, that he was not coming. Having locked and
bolted her door, for greater security, she went to bed at last and
remained there, with her eyes open, thinking and barely understanding it
all, without being able to guess what he was going to do.
When her maid brought her tea she at the same time handed her a letter
from her husband. He told her that he was going to undertake a longish
journey and in a postscript added that his lawyer would provide her with
any sums of money she might require for all her expenses.
It was at the opera, between two acts of "Robert the Devil." In the
stalls the men were standing up, with their hats on, their waistcoats cut
very low so as to show a large amount of white shirt front, in which gold
and jewelled studs glistened, and were looking at the boxes full of
ladies in low dresses covered with diamonds and pearls, who were
expanding like flowers in that illuminated hothouse, where the beauty of
their faces and the whiteness of their shoulders seemed to bloom in order
to be gazed at, amid the sound of the music and of human voices.
Two friends, with their backs to the orchestra, were scanning those rows
of elegance, that exhibition of real or false charms, of jewels, of
luxury and of pretension which displayed itself in all parts of the Grand
Theatre, and one of them, Roger de Salnis, said to his companion, Bernard
"Just look how beautiful the Comtesse de Mascaret still is."
The older man in turn looked through his opera glasses at a tall lady in
a box opposite. She appeared to be still very young, and her striking
beauty seemed to attract all eyes in every corner of the house. Her pale
complexion, of an ivory tint, gave her the appearance of a statue, while
a small diamond coronet glistened on her black hair like a streak of
When he had looked at her for some time, Bernard Grandin replied with a
jocular accent of sincere conviction: "You may well call her beautiful!"
"How old do you think she is?"
"Wait a moment. I can tell you exactly, for I have known her since she
was a child and I saw her make her debut into society when she was quite
a girl. She is--she is--thirty--thirty-six."
"I am sure of it."
"She looks twenty-five."
"She has had seven children."
"It is incredible."
"And what is more, they are all seven alive, as she is a very good
mother. I occasionally go to the house, which is a very quiet and
pleasant one, where one may see the phenomenon of the family in the midst
"How very strange! And have there never been any reports about her?"
"But what about her husband? He is peculiar, is he not?"
"Yes and no. Very likely there has been a little drama between them, one
of those little domestic dramas which one suspects, never finds out
exactly, but guesses at pretty closely."
"What is it?"
"I do not know anything about it. Mascaret leads a very fast life now,
after being a model husband. As long as he remained a good spouse he had
a shocking temper, was crabbed and easily took offence, but since he has
been leading his present wild life he has become quite different, But one
might surmise that he has some trouble, a worm gnawing somewhere, for he
has aged very much."
Thereupon the two friends talked philosophically for some minutes about
the secret, unknowable troubles which differences of character or perhaps
physical antipathies, which were not perceived at first, give rise to in
families, and then Roger de Salnis, who was still looking at Madame de
Mascaret through his opera glasses, said: "It is almost incredible that
that woman can have had seven children!"
"Yes, in eleven years; after which, when she was thirty, she refused to
have any more, in order to take her place in society, which she seems
likely to do for many years."
"Why do you pity them?"
"Why? Ah! my dear fellow, just consider! Eleven years in a condition of
motherhood for such a woman! What a hell! All her youth, all her
beauty, every hope of success, every poetical ideal of a brilliant life
sacrificed to that abominable law of reproduction which turns the normal
woman into a mere machine for bringing children into the world."
"What would you have? It is only Nature!"
"Yes, but I say that Nature is our enemy, that we must always fight
against Nature, for she is continually bringing us back to an animal
state. You may be sure that God has not put anything on this earth that
is clean, pretty, elegant or accessory to our ideal; the human brain has
done it. It is man who has introduced a little grace, beauty, unknown
charm and mystery into creation by singing about it, interpreting it, by
admiring it as a poet, idealizing it as an artist and by explaining it
through science, doubtless making mistakes, but finding ingenious
reasons, hidden grace and beauty, unknown charm and mystery in the
various phenomena of Nature. God created only coarse beings, full of the
germs of disease, who, after a few years of bestial enjoyment, grow old
and infirm, with all the ugliness and all the want of power of human
decrepitude. He seems to have made them only in order that they may
reproduce their species in an ignoble manner and then die like ephemeral
insects. I said reproduce their species in an ignoble manner and I
adhere to that expression. What is there as a matter of fact more
ignoble and more repugnant than that act of reproduction of living
beings, against which all delicate minds always have revolted and always
will revolt? Since all the organs which have been invented by this
economical and malicious Creator serve two purposes, why did He not
choose another method of performing that sacred mission, which is the
noblest and the most exalted of all human functions? The mouth, which
nourishes the body by means of material food, also diffuses abroad speech
and thought. Our flesh renews itself of its own accord, while we are
thinking about it. The olfactory organs, through which the vital air
reaches the lungs, communicate all the perfumes of the world to the
brain: the smell of flowers, of woods, of trees, of the sea. The ear,
which enables us to communicate with our fellow men, has also allowed us
to invent music, to create dreams, happiness, infinite and even physical
pleasure by means of sound! But one might say that the cynical and
cunning Creator wished to prohibit man from ever ennobling and idealizing
his intercourse with women. Nevertheless man has found love, which is
not a bad reply to that sly Deity, and he has adorned it with so much
poetry that woman often forgets the sensual part of it. Those among us
who are unable to deceive themselves have invented vice and refined
debauchery, which is another way of laughing at God and paying homage,
immodest homage, to beauty.
"But the normal man begets children just like an animal coupled with
another by law.
"Look at that woman! Is it not abominable to think that such a jewel,
such a pearl, born to be beautiful, admired, feted and adored, has spent
eleven years of her life in providing heirs for the Comte de Mascaret?"
Bernard Grandin replied with a laugh: "There is a great deal of truth in
all that, but very few people would understand you."
Salnis became more and more animated. "Do you know how I picture God
myself?" he said. "As an enormous, creative organ beyond our ken, who
scatters millions of worlds into space, just as one single fish would
deposit its spawn in the sea. He creates because it is His function as
God to do so, but He does not know what He is doing and is stupidly
prolific in His work and is ignorant of the combinations of all kinds
which are produced by His scattered germs. The human mind is a lucky
little local, passing accident which was totally unforeseen, and
condemned to disappear with this earth and to recommence perhaps here or
elsewhere the same or different with fresh combinations of eternally new
beginnings. We owe it to this little lapse of intelligence on His part
that we are very uncomfortable in this world which was not made for us,
which had not been prepared to receive us, to lodge and feed us or to
satisfy reflecting beings, and we owe it to Him also that we have to
struggle without ceasing against what are still called the designs of
Providence, when we are really refined and civilized beings."
Grandin, who was listening to him attentively as he had long known the
surprising outbursts of his imagination, asked him: "Then you believe
that human thought is the spontaneous product of blind divine
"Naturally! A fortuitous function of the nerve centres of our brain,
like the unforeseen chemical action due to new mixtures and similar also
to a charge of electricity, caused by friction or the unexpected
proximity of some substance, similar to all phenomena caused by the
infinite and fruitful fermentation of living matter.
"But, my dear fellow, the truth of this must be evident to any one who
looks about him. If the human mind, ordained by an omniscient Creator,
had been intended to be what it has become, exacting, inquiring,
agitated, tormented--so different from mere animal thought and
resignation--would the world which was created to receive the beings
which we now are have been this unpleasant little park for small game,
this salad patch, this wooded, rocky and spherical kitchen garden where
your improvident Providence had destined us to live naked, in caves or
under trees, nourished on the flesh of slaughtered animals, our brethren,
or on raw vegetables nourished by the sun and the rain?
"But it is sufficient to reflect for a moment, in order to understand
that this world was not made for such creatures as we are. Thought,
which is developed by a miracle in the nerves of the cells in our brain,
powerless, ignorant and confused as it is, and as it will always remain,
makes all of us who are intellectual beings eternal and wretched exiles
"Look at this earth, as God has given it to those who inhabit it. Is it
not visibly and solely made, planted and covered with forests for the
sake of animals? What is there for us? Nothing. And for them,
everything, and they have nothing to do but to eat or go hunting and eat
each other, according to their instincts, for God never foresaw
gentleness and peaceable manners; He only foresaw the death of creatures
which were bent on destroying and devouring each other. Are not the
quail, the pigeon and the partridge the natural prey of the hawk? the
sheep, the stag and the ox that of the great flesh-eating animals, rather
than meat to be fattened and served up to us with truffles, which have
been unearthed by pigs for our special benefit?
"As to ourselves, the more civilized, intellectual and refined we are,
the more we ought to conquer and subdue that animal instinct, which
represents the will of God in us. And so, in order to mitigate our lot
as brutes, we have discovered and made everything, beginning with houses,
then exquisite food, sauces, sweetmeats, pastry, drink, stuffs, clothes,
ornaments, beds, mattresses, carriages, railways and innumerable
machines, besides arts and sciences, writing and poetry. Every ideal
comes from us as do all the amenities of life, in order to make our
existence as simple reproducers, for which divine Providence solely
intended us, less monotonous and less hard.
"Look at this theatre. Is there not here a human world created by us,
unforeseen and unknown to eternal fate, intelligible to our minds alone,
a sensual and intellectual distraction, which has been invented solely by
and for that discontented and restless little animal, man?
"Look at that woman, Madame de Mascaret. God intended her to live in a
cave, naked or wrapped up in the skins of wild animals. But is she not
better as she is? But, speaking of her, does any one know why and how
her brute of a husband, having such a companion by his side, and
especially after having been boorish enough to make her a mother seven
times, has suddenly left her, to run after bad women?"
Grandin replied: "Oh! my dear fellow, this is probably the only reason.
He found that raising a family was becoming too expensive, and from
reasons of domestic economy he has arrived at the same principles which
you lay down as a philosopher."
Just then the curtain rose for the third act, and they turned round, took
off their hats and sat down.
The Comte and Comtesse Mascaret were sitting side by side in the carriage
which was taking them home from the Opera, without speaking but suddenly
the husband said to his wife: "Gabrielle!"
"What do you want?"
"Don't you think that this has lasted long enough?"
"The horrible punishment to which you have condemned me for the last six
"What do you want? I cannot help it."
"Then tell me which of them it is."
"Think that I can no longer see my children or feel them round me,
without having my heart burdened with this doubt. Tell me which of them
it is, and I swear that I will forgive you and treat it like the others."
"I have not the right to do so."
"Do you not see that I can no longer endure this life, this thought which
is wearing me out, or this question which I am constantly asking myself,
this question which tortures me each time I look at them? It is driving
"Then you have suffered a great deal?" she said.
"Terribly. Should I, without that, have accepted the horror of living by
your side, and the still greater horror of feeling and knowing that there
is one among them whom I cannot recognize and who prevents me from loving
"Then you have really suffered very much?" she repeated.
And he replied in a constrained and sorrowful voice:
"Yes, for do I not tell you every day that it is intolerable torture to
me? Should I have remained in that house, near you and them, if I did
not love them? Oh! You have behaved abominably toward me. All the
affection of my heart I have bestowed upon my children, and that you
know. I am for them a father of the olden time, as I was for you a
husband of one of the families of old, for by instinct I have remained a
natural man, a man of former days. Yes, I will confess it, you have made
me terribly jealous, because you are a woman of another race, of another
soul, with other requirements. Oh! I shall never forget the things you
said to me, but from that day I troubled myself no more about you. I did
not kill you, because then I should have had no means on earth of ever
discovering which of our--of your children is not mine. I have waited,
but I have suffered more than you would believe, for I can no longer
venture to love them, except, perhaps, the two eldest; I no longer
venture to look at them, to call them to me, to kiss them; I cannot take
them on my knee without asking myself, 'Can it be this one?' I have been
correct in my behavior toward you for six years, and even kind and
complaisant. Tell me the truth, and I swear that I will do nothing
He thought, in spite of the darkness of the carriage, that he could
perceive that she was moved, and feeling certain that she was going to
speak at last, he said: "I beg you, I beseech you to tell me" he said.
"I have been more guilty than you think perhaps," she replied, "but I
could no longer endure that life of continual motherhood, and I had only
one means of driving you from me. I lied before God and I lied, with my
hand raised to my children's head, for I never have wronged you."
He seized her arm in the darkness, and squeezing it as he had done on
that terrible day of their drive in the Bois de Boulogne, he stammered:
"Is that true?"
"It is true."
But, wild with grief, he said with a groan: "I shall have fresh doubts
that will never end! When did you lie, the last time or now? How am I
to believe you at present? How can one believe a woman after that? I
shall never again know what I am to think. I would rather you had said
to me, 'It is Jacques or it is Jeanne.'"
The carriage drove into the courtyard of the house and when it had drawn
up in front of the steps the count alighted first, as usual, and offered
his wife his arm to mount the stairs. As soon as they reached the first
floor he said: "May I speak to you for a few moments longer?" And she
replied, "I am quite willing."
They went into a small drawing-room and a footman, in some surprise,
lighted the wax candles. As soon as he had left the room and they were
alone the count continued: "How am I to know the truth? I have begged you
a thousand times to speak, but you have remained dumb, impenetrable,
inflexible, inexorable, and now to-day you tell me that you have been
lying. For six years you have actually allowed me to believe such a
thing! No, you are lying now, I do not know why, but out of pity for me,
She replied in a sincere and convincing manner: "If I had not done so, I
should have had four more children in the last six years!"
"Can a mother speak like that?"
"Oh!" she replied, "I do not feel that I am the mother of children who
never have been born; it is enough for me to be the mother of those that
I have and to love them with all my heart. I am a woman of the civilized
world, monsieur--we all are--and we are no longer, and we refuse to be,
mere females to restock the earth."
She got up, but he seized her hands. "Only one word, Gabrielle. Tell me
"I have just told you. I never have dishonored you."
He looked her full in the face, and how beautiful she was, with her gray
eyes, like the cold sky. In her dark hair sparkled the diamond coronet,
like a radiance. He suddenly felt, felt by a kind of intuition, that
this grand creature was not merely a being destined to perpetuate the
race, but the strange and mysterious product of all our complicated
desires which have been accumulating in us for centuries but which have
been turned aside from their primitive and divine object and have
wandered after a mystic, imperfectly perceived and intangible beauty.
There are some women like that, who blossom only for our dreams, adorned
with every poetical attribute of civilization, with that ideal luxury,
coquetry and esthetic charm which surround woman, a living statue that
brightens our life.
Her husband remained standing before her, stupefied at his tardy and
obscure discovery, confusedly hitting on the cause of his former jealousy
and understanding it all very imperfectly, and at last lie said: "I
believe you, for I feel at this moment that you are not lying, and before
I really thought that you were."
She put out her hand to him: "We are friends then?"
He took her hand and kissed it and replied: "We are friends. Thank you,
Then he went out, still looking at her, and surprised that she was still
so beautiful and feeling a strange emotion arising in him.
He was a clerk in the Bureau of Public Education and lived at
Batignolles. He took the omnibus to Paris every morning and always sat
opposite a girl, with whom he fell in love.
She was employed in a shop and went in at the same time every day. She
was a little brunette, one of those girls whose eyes are so dark that
they look like black spots, on a complexion like ivory. He always saw
her coming at the corner of the same street, and she generally had to run
to catch the heavy vehicle, and sprang upon the steps before the horses
had quite stopped. Then she got inside, out of breath, and, sitting
down, looked round her.
The first time that he saw her, Francois Tessier liked the face. One
sometimes meets a woman whom one longs to clasp in one's arms without
even knowing her. That girl seemed to respond to some chord in his
being, to that sort of ideal of love which one cherishes in the depths of
the heart, without knowing it.
He looked at her intently, not meaning to be rude, and she became
embarrassed and blushed. He noticed it, and tried to turn away his eyes;
but he involuntarily fixed them upon her again every moment, although he
tried to look in another direction; and, in a few days, they seemed to
know each other without having spoken. He gave up his place to her when
the omnibus was full, and got outside, though he was very sorry to do it.
By this time she had got so far as to greet him with a little smile; and,
although she always dropped her eyes under his looks, which she felt were
too ardent, yet she did not appear offended at being looked at in such a
They ended by speaking. A kind of rapid friendship had become
established between them, a daily freemasonry of half an hour, and that
was certainly one of the most charming half hours in his life to him.
He thought of her all the rest of the day, saw her image continually
during the long office hours. He was haunted and bewitched by that
floating and yet tenacious recollection which the form of a beloved woman
leaves in us, and it seemed to him that if he could win that little
person it would be maddening happiness to him, almost above human
Every morning she now shook hands with him, and he preserved the sense of
that touch and the recollection of the gentle pressure of her little
fingers until the next day, and he almost fancied that he preserved the
imprint on his palm. He anxiously waited for this short omnibus ride,
while Sundays seemed to him heartbreaking days. However, there was no
doubt that she loved him, for one Saturday, in spring, she promised to go
and lunch with him at Maisons-Laffitte the next day.
She was at the railway station first, which surprised him, but she said:
"Before going, I want to speak to you. We have twenty minutes, and that
is more than I shall take for what I have to say."
She trembled as she hung on his arm, and looked down, her cheeks pale, as
she continued: "I do not want you to be deceived in me, and I shall not
go there with you, unless you promise, unless you swear--not to do--not
to do anything--that is at all improper."
She had suddenly become as red as a poppy, and said no more. He did not
know what to reply, for he was happy and disappointed at the same time.
He should love her less, certainly, if he knew that her conduct was
light, but then it would be so charming, so delicious to have a little