Part 16 out of 31
"All right, mamma; don't alarm yourself."
She took my arm and we went wandering about the streets, just as I had
wandered the previous year with her sister.
We returned to the hotel for lunch, and then I took my new friend to
Santa Margarita, just as I had taken her sister the year previously.
During the whole fortnight which I had at my disposal, I took Carlotta to
all the places of interest in and about Genoa. She gave me no cause to
regret her sister.
She cried when I left her, and the morning of my departure I gave her
four bracelets for her mother, besides a substantial token of my
affection for herself.
One of these days I intend to return to Italy, and I cannot help
remembering with a certain amount of uneasiness, mingled with hope, that
Madame Rondoli has two more daughters.
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 7.
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
THE FALSE GEMS
MY TWENTY-FIVE DAYS
LEGEND OF MONT ST. MICHEL
A NEW YEAR'S GIFT
THE MAISON TELLIER
THE FALSE GEMS
Monsieur Lantin had met the young girl at a reception at the house of the
second head of his department, and had fallen head over heels in love
She was the daughter of a provincial tax collector, who had been dead
several years. She and her mother came to live in Paris, where the
latter, who made the acquaintance of some of the families in her
neighborhood, hoped to find a husband for her daughter.
They had very moderate means, and were honorable, gentle, and quiet.
The young girl was a perfect type of the virtuous woman in whose hands
every sensible young man dreams of one day intrusting his happiness.
Her simple beauty had the charm of angelic modesty, and the imperceptible
smile which constantly hovered about the lips seemed to be the reflection
of a pure and lovely soul. Her praises resounded on every side. People
never tired of repeating: "Happy the man who wins her love! He could not
find a better wife."
Monsieur Lantin, then chief clerk in the Department of the Interior,
enjoyed a snug little salary of three thousand five hundred francs, and
he proposed to this model young girl, and was accepted.
He was unspeakably happy with her. She governed his household with such
clever economy that they seemed to live in luxury. She lavished the most
delicate attentions on her husband, coaxed and fondled him; and so great
was her charm that six years after their marriage, Monsieur Lantin
discovered that he loved his wife even more than during the first days of
He found fault with only two of her tastes: Her love for the theatre, and
her taste for imitation jewelry. Her friends (the wives of some petty
officials) frequently procured for her a box at the theatre, often for
the first representations of the new plays; and her husband was obliged
to accompany her, whether he wished it or not, to these entertainments
which bored him excessively after his day's work at the office.
After a time, Monsieur Lantin begged his wife to request some lady of her
acquaintance to accompany her, and to bring her home after the theatre.
She opposed this arrangement, at first; but, after much persuasion,
finally consented, to the infinite delight of her husband.
Now, with her love for the theatre, came also the desire for ornaments.
Her costumes remained as before, simple, in good taste, and always
modest; but she soon began to adorn her ears with huge rhinestones, which
glittered and sparkled like real diamonds. Around her neck she wore
strings of false pearls, on her arms bracelets of imitation gold, and
combs set with glass jewels.
Her husband frequently remonstrated with her, saying:
"My dear, as you cannot afford to buy real jewelry, you ought to appear
adorned with your beauty and modesty alone, which are the rarest
ornaments of your sex."
But she would smile sweetly, and say:
"What can I do? I am so fond of jewelry. It is my only weakness. We
cannot change our nature."
Then she would wind the pearl necklace round her fingers, make the facets
of the crystal gems sparkle, and say:
"Look! are they not lovely? One would swear they were real."
Monsieur Lantin would then answer, smilingly:
"You have bohemian tastes, my dear."
Sometimes, of an evening, when they were enjoying a tete-a-tote by the
fireside, she would place on the tea table the morocco leather box
containing the "trash," as Monsieur Lantin called it. She would examine
the false gems with a passionate attention, as though they imparted some
deep and secret joy; and she often persisted in passing a necklace around
her husband's neck, and, laughing heartily, would exclaim: "How droll you
look!" Then she would throw herself into his arms, and kiss him
One evening, in winter, she had been to the opera, and returned home
chilled through and through. The next morning she coughed, and eight
days later she died of inflammation of the lungs.
Monsieur Lantin's despair was so great that his hair became white in one
month. He wept unceasingly; his heart was broken as he remembered her
smile, her voice, every charm of his dead wife.
Time did not assuage his grief. Often, during office hours, while his
colleagues were discussing the topics of the day, his eyes would suddenly
fill with tears, and he would give vent to his grief in heartrending
sobs. Everything in his wife's room remained as it was during her
lifetime; all her furniture, even her clothing, being left as it was on
the day of her death. Here he was wont to seclude himself daily and
think of her who had been his treasure-the joy of his existence.
But life soon became a struggle. His income, which, in the hands of his
wife, covered all household expenses, was now no longer sufficient for
his own immediate wants; and he wondered how she could have managed to
buy such excellent wine and the rare delicacies which he could no longer
procure with his modest resources.
He incurred some debts, and was soon reduced to absolute poverty. One
morning, finding himself without a cent in his pocket, he resolved to
sell something, and immediately the thought occurred to him of disposing
of his wife's paste jewels, for he cherished in his heart a sort of
rancor against these "deceptions," which had always irritated him in the
past. The very sight of them spoiled, somewhat, the memory of his lost
To the last days of her life she had continued to make purchases,
bringing home new gems almost every evening, and he turned them over some
time before finally deciding to sell the heavy necklace, which she seemed
to prefer, and which, he thought, ought to be worth about six or seven
francs; for it was of very fine workmanship, though only imitation.
He put it in his pocket, and started out in search of what seemed a
reliable jeweler's shop. At length he found one, and went in, feeling a
little ashamed to expose his misery, and also to offer such a worthless
article for sale.
"Sir," said he to the merchant, "I would like to know what this is
The man took the necklace, examined it, called his clerk, and made some
remarks in an undertone; he then put the ornament back on the counter,
and looked at it from a distance to judge of the effect.
Monsieur Lantin, annoyed at all these ceremonies, was on the point of
saying: "Oh! I know well 'enough it is not worth anything," when the
jeweler said: "Sir, that necklace is worth from twelve to fifteen
thousand francs; but I could not buy it, unless you can tell me exactly
where it came from."
The widower opened his eyes wide and remained gaping, not comprehending
the merchant's meaning. Finally he stammered: "You say--are you sure?"
The other replied, drily: "You can try elsewhere and see if any one will
offer you more. I consider it worth fifteen thousand at the most. Come
back; here, if you cannot do better."
Monsieur Lantin, beside himself with astonishment, took up the necklace
and left the store. He wished time for reflection.
Once outside, he felt inclined to laugh, and said to himself: "The fool!
Oh, the fool! Had I only taken him at his word! That jeweler cannot
distinguish real diamonds from the imitation article."
A few minutes after, he entered another store, in the Rue de la Paix. As
soon as the proprietor glanced at the necklace, he cried out:
"Ah, parbleu! I know it well; it was bought here."
Monsieur Lantin, greatly disturbed, asked:
"How much is it worth?"
"Well, I sold it for twenty thousand francs. I am willing to take it
back for eighteen thousand, when you inform me, according to our legal
formality, how it came to be in your possession."
This time, Monsieur Lantin was dumfounded. He replied:
"But--but--examine it well. Until this moment I was under the impression
that it was imitation."
The jeweler asked:
"What is your name, sir?"
"Lantin--I am in the employ of the Minister of the Interior. I live at
number sixteen Rue des Martyrs."
The merchant looked through his books, found the entry, and said: "That
necklace was sent to Madame Lantin's address, sixteen Rue des Martyrs,
July 20, 1876."
The two men looked into each other's eyes--the widower speechless with
astonishment; the jeweler scenting a thief. The latter broke the
"Will you leave this necklace here for twenty-four hours?" said he; "I
will give you a receipt."
Monsieur Lantin answered hastily: "Yes, certainly." Then, putting the
ticket in his pocket, he left the store.
He wandered aimlessly through the streets, his mind in a state of
dreadful confusion. He tried to reason, to understand. His wife could
not afford to purchase such a costly ornament. Certainly not.
But, then, it must have been a present!--a present!--a present, from
whom? Why was it given her?
He stopped, and remained standing in the middle of the street. A
horrible doubt entered his mind--She? Then, all the other jewels must
have been presents, too! The earth seemed to tremble beneath him--the
tree before him to be falling; he threw up his arms, and fell to the
ground, unconscious. He recovered his senses in a pharmacy, into which
the passers-by had borne him. He asked to be taken home, and, when he
reached the house, he shut himself up in his room, and wept until
nightfall. Finally, overcome with fatigue, he went to bed and fell into
a heavy sleep.
The sun awoke him next morning, and he began to dress slowly to go to the
office. It was hard to work after such shocks. He sent a letter to his
employer, requesting to be excused. Then he remembered that he had to
return to the jeweler's. He did not like the idea; but he could not
leave the necklace with that man. He dressed and went out.
It was a lovely day; a clear, blue sky smiled on the busy city below.
Men of leisure were strolling about with their hands in their pockets.
Monsieur Lantin, observing them, said to himself: "The rich, indeed, are
happy. With money it is possible to forget even the deepest sorrow. One
can go where one pleases, and in travel find that distraction which is
the surest cure for grief. Oh if I were only rich!"
He perceived that he was hungry, but his pocket was empty. He again
remembered the necklace. Eighteen thousand francs! Eighteen thousand
francs! What a sum!
He soon arrived in the Rue de la Paix, opposite the jeweler's. Eighteen
thousand francs! Twenty times he resolved to go in, but shame kept him
back. He was hungry, however--very hungry--and not a cent in his pocket.
He decided quickly, ran across the street, in order not to have time for
reflection, and rushed into the store.
The proprietor immediately came forward, and politely offered him a
chair; the clerks glanced at him knowingly.
"I have made inquiries, Monsieur Lantin," said the jeweler, "and if you
are still resolved to dispose of the gems, I am ready to pay you the
price I offered."
"Certainly, sir," stammered Monsieur Lantin.
Whereupon the proprietor took from a drawer eighteen large bills,
counted, and handed them to Monsieur Lantin, who signed a receipt; and,
with trembling hand, put the money into his pocket.
As he was about to leave the store, he turned toward the merchant, who
still wore the same knowing smile, and lowering his eyes, said:
"I have--I have other gems, which came from the same source. Will you
buy them, also?"
The merchant bowed: "Certainly, sir."
Monsieur Lantin said gravely: "I will bring them to you." An hour later,
he returned with the gems.
The large diamond earrings were worth twenty thousand francs; the
bracelets, thirty-five thousand; the rings, sixteen thousand; a set of
emeralds and sapphires, fourteen thousand; a gold chain with solitaire
pendant, forty thousand--making the sum of one hundred and forty-three
The jeweler remarked, jokingly:
"There was a person who invested all her savings in precious stones."
Monsieur Lantin replied, seriously:
"It is only another way of investing one's money."
That day he lunched at Voisin's, and drank wine worth twenty francs a
bottle. Then he hired a carriage and made a tour of the Bois. He gazed
at the various turnouts with a kind of disdain, and could hardly refrain
from crying out to the occupants:
"I, too, am rich!--I am worth two hundred thousand francs."
Suddenly he thought of his employer. He drove up to the bureau, and
entered gaily, saying:
"Sir, I have come to resign my position. I have just inherited three
hundred thousand francs."
He shook hands with his former colleagues, and confided to them some of
his projects for the future; he then went off to dine at the Cafe
He seated himself beside a gentleman of aristocratic bearing; and, during
the meal, informed the latter confidentially that he had just inherited a
fortune of four hundred thousand francs.
For the first time in his life, he was not bored at the theatre, and
spent the remainder of the night in a gay frolic.
Six months afterward, he married again. His second wife was a very
virtuous woman; but had a violent temper. She caused him much sorrow.
I can tell you neither the name of the country, nor the name of the man.
It was a long, long way from here on a fertile and burning shore. We had
been walking since the morning along the coast, with the blue sea bathed
in sunlight on one side of us, and the shore covered with crops on the
other. Flowers were growing quite close to the waves, those light,
gentle, lulling waves. It was very warm, a soft warmth permeated with
the odor of the rich, damp, fertile soil. One fancied one was inhaling
I had been told, that evening, that I should meet with hospitality at the
house of a Frenchman who lived in an orange grove at the end of a
promontory. Who was he? I did not know. He had come there one morning
ten years before, and had bought land which he planted with vines and
sowed with grain. He had worked, this man, with passionate energy, with
fury. Then as he went on from month to month, year to year, enlarging
his boundaries, cultivating incessantly the strong virgin soil, he
accumulated a fortune by his indefatigable labor.
But he kept on working, they said. Rising at daybreak, he would remain
in the fields till evening, superintending everything without ceasing,
tormented by one fixed idea, the insatiable desire for money, which
nothing can quiet, nothing satisfy. He now appeared to be very rich.
The sun was setting as I reached his house. It was situated as
described, at the end of a promontory in the midst of a grove of orange
trees. It was a large square house, quite plain, and overlooked the sea.
As I approached, a man wearing a long beard appeared in the doorway.
Having greeted him, I asked if he would give me shelter for the night.
He held out his hand and said, smiling:
"Come in, monsieur, consider yourself at home."
He led me into a room, and put a man servant at my disposal with the
perfect ease and familiar graciousness of a man-of-the-world. Then he
left me saying:
"We will dine as soon as you are ready to come downstairs."
We took dinner, sitting opposite each other, on a terrace facing the sea.
I began to talk about this rich, distant, unknown land. He smiled, as he
"Yes, this country is beautiful. But no country satisfies one when they
are far from the one they love."
"You regret France?"
"I regret Paris."
"Why do you not go back?"
"Oh, I will return there."
And gradually we began to talk of French society, of the boulevards, and
things Parisian. He asked me questions that showed he knew all about
these things, mentioned names, all the familiar names in vaudeville known
on the sidewalks.
"Whom does one see at Tortoni's now?
"Always the same crowd, except those who died." I looked at him
attentively, haunted by a vague recollection. I certainly had seen that
head somewhere. But where? And when? He seemed tired, although he was
vigorous; and sad, although he was determined. His long, fair beard fell
on his chest. He was somewhat bald and had heavy eyebrows and a thick
The sun was sinking into the sea, turning the vapor from the earth into a
fiery mist. The orange blossoms exhaled their powerful, delicious
fragrance. He seemed to see nothing besides me, and gazing steadfastly
he appeared to discover in the depths of my mind the far-away, beloved
and well-known image of the wide, shady pavement leading from the
Madeleine to the Rue Drouot.
"Do you know Boutrelle?"
"Has he changed much?"
"Yes, his hair is quite white."
"And La Ridamie?"
"The same as ever."
"And the women? Tell me about the women. Let's see. Do you know
"Yes, very much. But that is over."
"Ah! And Sophie Astier?"
"Poor girl. Did you--did you know--"
But he ceased abruptly: And then, in a changed voice, his face suddenly
turning pale, he continued:
"No, it is best that I should not speak of that any more, it breaks my
Then, as if to change the current of his thoughts he rose.
"Would you like to go in?" he said.
"Yes, I think so."
And he preceded me into the house. The downstairs rooms were enormous,
bare and mournful, and had a deserted look. Plates and glasses were
scattered on the tables, left there by the dark-skinned servants who
wandered incessantly about this spacious dwelling.
Two rifles were banging from two nails, on the wall; and in the corners
of the rooms were spades, fishing poles, dried palm leaves, every
imaginable thing set down at random when people came home in the evening
and ready to hand when they went out at any time, or went to work.
My host smiled as he said:
"This is the dwelling, or rather the kennel, of an exile, but my own room
is cleaner. Let us go there."
As I entered I thought I was in a second-hand store, it was so full of
things of all descriptions, strange things of various kinds that one felt
must be souvenirs. On the walls were two pretty paintings by well-known
artists, draperies, weapons, swords and pistols, and exactly in the
middle, on the principal panel, a square of white satin in a gold frame.
Somewhat surprised, I approached to look at it, and perceived a hairpin
fastened in the centre of the glossy satin. My host placed his hand on
"That," said he, "is the only thing that I look at here, and the only
thing that I have seen for ten years. M. Prudhomme said: 'This sword is
the most memorable day of my life.' I can say: 'This hairpin is all my
I sought for some commonplace remark, and ended by saying:
"You have suffered on account of some woman?"
He replied abruptly:
"Say, rather, that I am suffering like a wretch."
"But come out on my balcony. A name rose to my lips just now which I
dared not utter; for if you had said 'Dead' as you did of Sophie Astier,
I should have fired a bullet into my brain, this very day."
We had gone out on the wide balcony from whence we could see two gulfs,
one to the right and the other to the left, enclosed by high gray
mountains. It was just twilight and the reflection of the sunset still
lingered in the sky.
"Is Jeanne de Limours still alive?"
His eyes were fastened on mine and were full of a trembling anxiety. I
"Parbleu--she is prettier than ever."
"Do you know her?"
He hesitated and then said:
He took my hand.
"Tell me about her," he said.
"Why, I have nothing to tell. She is one of the most charming women, or,
rather, girls, and the most admired in Paris. She leads a delightful
existence and lives like a princess, that is all."
"I love her," he murmured in a tone in which he might have said "I am
going to die." Then suddenly he continued:
"Ah! For three years we lived in a state of terror and delight. I
almost killed her five or six times. She tried to pierce my eyes with
that hairpin that you saw just now. Look, do you see that little white
spot beneath my left eye? We loved each other. How can I explain that
infatuation? You would not understand it."
"There must be a simple form of love, the result of the mutual impulse of
two hearts and two souls. But there is also assuredly an atrocious form,
that tortures one cruelly, the result of the occult blending of two
unlike personalities who detest each other at the same time that they
adore one another."
"In three years this woman had ruined me. I had four million francs
which she squandered in her calm manner, quietly, eat them up with a
gentle smile that seemed to fall from her eyes on to her lips."
"You know her? There is something irresistible about her. What is it?
I do not know. Is it those gray eyes whose glance penetrates you like a
gimlet and remains there like the point of an arrow? It is more likely
the gentle, indifferent and fascinating smile that she wears like a mask.
Her slow grace pervades you little by little; exhales from her like a
perfume, from her slim figure that scarcely sways as she passes you, for
she seems to glide rather than walk; from her pretty voice with its
slight drawl that would seem to be the music of her smile; from her
gestures, also, which are never exaggerated, but always appropriate, and
intoxicate your vision with their harmony. For three years she was the
only being that existed for me on the earth! How I suffered; for she
deceived me as she deceived everyone! Why? For no reason; just for the
pleasure of deceiving. And when I found it out, when I treated her as a
common girl and a beggar, she said quietly: 'Are we married?'
"Since I have been here I have thought so much about her that at last I
understand her. She is Manon Lescaut come back to life. It is Manon,
who could not love without deceiving; Marion for whom love, amusement,
money, are all one."
He was silent. After a few minutes he resumed:
"When I had spent my last sou on her she said simply:
"'You understand, my dear boy, that I cannot live on air and weather.
I love you very much, better than anyone, but I must live. Poverty and
I could not keep house together."
"And if I should tell you what a horrible life I led with her! When I
looked at her I would just as soon have killed her as kissed her. When I
looked at her . . . I felt a furious desire to open my arms to embrace
and strangle her. She had, back of her eyes, something false and
intangible that made me execrate her; and that was, perhaps, the reason I
loved her so well. The eternal feminine, the odious and seductive
feminine, was stronger in her than in any other woman. She was full of
it, overcharged, as with a venomous and intoxicating fluid. She was a
woman to a greater extent than any one has ever been."
"And when I went out with her she would look at all men in such a manner
that she seemed to offer herself to each in a single glance. This
exasperated me, and still it attached me to her all the more. This
creature in just walking along the street belonged to everyone, in spite
of me, in spite of herself, by the very fact of her nature, although she
had a modest, gentle carriage. Do you understand?
"And what torture! At the theatre, at the restaurant she seemed to
belong to others under my very eyes. And as soon as I left her she did
belong to others.
"It is now ten years since I saw her and I love her better than ever."
Night spread over the earth. A strong perfume of orange blossoms
pervaded the air. I said:
"Will you see her again?"
"Parbleu! I now have here, in land and money, seven to eight thousand
francs. When I reach a million I shall sell out and go away. I shall
have enough to live on with her for a year--one whole year. And then,
good-bye, my life will be finished."
"But after that?" I asked.
"After that, I do not know. That will be all, I may possibly ask her to
take me as a valet de chambre."
"The Comtesse Samoris."
"That lady in black over there?"
"The very one. She's wearing mourning for her daughter, whom she
"You don't mean that seriously? How did she die?"
"Oh! it is a very simple story, without any crime in it, any violence."
"Then what really happened?"
"Almost nothing. Many courtesans are born to be virtuous women, they
say; and many women called virtuous are born to be courtesans--is that
not so? Now, Madame Samoris, who was born a courtesan, had a daughter
born a virtuous woman, that's all."
"I don't quite understand you."
"I'll--explain what I mean. The comtesse is nothing but a common,
ordinary parvenue originating no one knows where. A Hungarian or
Wallachian countess or I know not what. She appeared one winter in
apartments she had taken in the Champs Elysees, that quarter for
adventurers and adventuresses, and opened her drawing-room to the first
comer or to any one that turned up.
"I went there. Why? you will say. I really can't tell you. I went
there, as every one goes to such places because the women are facile and
the men are dishonest. You know that set composed of filibusters with
varied decorations, all noble, all titled, all unknown at the embassies,
with the exception of those who are spies. All talk of their honor
without the slightest occasion for doing so, boast of their ancestors,
tell you about their lives, braggarts, liars, sharpers, as dangerous as
the false cards they have up their sleeves, as delusive as their names--
in short, the aristocracy of the bagnio.
"I adore these people. They are interesting to study, interesting to
know, amusing to understand, often clever, never commonplace like public
functionaries. Their wives are always pretty, with a slight flavor of
foreign roguery, with the mystery of their existence, half of it perhaps
spent in a house of correction. They have, as a rule, magnificent eyes
and incredible hair. I adore them also.
"Madame Samoris is the type of these adventuresses, elegant, mature and
still beautiful. Charming feline creatures, you feel that they are
vicious to the marrow of their bones. You find them very amusing when
you visit them; they give card parties; they have dances and suppers; in
short, they offer you all the pleasures of social life.
"And she had a daughter--a tall, fine-looking girl, always ready for
amusement, always full of laughter and reckless gaiety--a true
adventuress' daughter--but, at the same time, an innocent,
unsophisticated, artless girl, who saw nothing, knew nothing, understood
nothing of all the things that happened in her father's house.
"The girl was simply a puzzle to me. She was a mystery. She lived amid
those infamous surroundings with a quiet, tranquil ease that was either
terribly criminal or else the result of innocence. She sprang from the
filth of that class like a beautiful flower fed on corruption."
"How do you know about them?"
"How do I know? That's the funniest part of the business! One morning
there was a ring at my door, and my valet came up to tell me that
M. Joseph Bonenthal wanted to speak to me. I said directly:
"'And who is this gentleman?' My valet replied: 'I don't know, monsieur;
perhaps 'tis some one that wants employment.' And so it was. The man
wanted me to take him as a servant. I asked him where he had been last.
He answered: 'With the Comtesse Samoris.' 'Ah!' said I, 'but my house is
not a bit like hers.' 'I know that well, monsieur,' he said, 'and that's
the very reason I want to take service with monsieur. I've had enough of
these people: a man may stay a little while with them, but he won't
remain long with them.' I required an additional man servant at the time
and so I took him.
"A month later Mademoiselle Yvette Samoris died mysteriously, and here
are all the details of her death I could gather from Joseph, who got them
from his sweetheart, the comtesse's chambermaid.
"It was a ball night, and two newly arrived guests were chatting behind a
door. Mademoiselle Yvette, who had just been dancing, leaned against
this door to get a little air.
"They did not see her approaching, but she heard what they were saying.
And this was what they said:
"'But who is the father of the girl?'
"'A Russian, it appears; Count Rouvaloff. He never comes near the mother
"'And who is the reigning prince to-day?'
"'That English prince standing near the window; Madame Samoris adores
him. But her adoration of any one never lasts longer than a month or six
weeks. Nevertheless, as you see, she has a large circle of admirers.
All are called--and nearly all are chosen. That kind of thing costs a
good deal, but--hang it, what can you expect?'
"'And where did she get this name of Samoris?'
"'From the only man perhaps that she ever loved--a Jewish banker from
Berlin who goes by the name of Samuel Morris.'
"'Good. Thanks. Now that I know what kind of woman she is and have seen
her, I'm off!'
"What a shock this was to the mind of a young girl endowed with all the
instincts of a virtuous woman! What despair overwhelmed that simple
soul! What mental tortures quenched her unbounded gaiety, her delightful
laughter, her exultant satisfaction with life! What a conflict took
place in that youthful heart up to the moment when the last guest had
left! Those were things that Joseph could not tell me. But, the same
night, Yvette abruptly entered her mother's room just as the comtesse was
getting into bed, sent out the lady's maid, who was close to the door,
and, standing erect and pale and with great staring eyes, she said:
"'Mamma, listen to what I heard a little while ago during the ball.'
"And she repeated word for word the conversation just as I told it to
"The comtesse was so stunned that she did not know what to say in reply
at first. When she recovered her self-possession she denied everything
and called God to witness that there was no truth in the story.
"The young girl went away, distracted but not convinced. And she began
to watch her mother.
"I remember distinctly the strange alteration that then took place in
her. She became grave and melancholy. She would fix on us her great
earnest eyes as if she wanted to read what was at the bottom of our
hearts. We did not know what to think of her and used to imagine that
she was looking out for a husband.
"One evening she overheard her mother talking to her admirer and later
saw them together, and her doubts were confirmed. She was heartbroken,
and after telling her mother what she had seen, she said coldly, like a
man of business laying down the terms of an agreement:
"'Here is what I have determined to do, mamma: We will both go away to
some little town, or rather into the country. We will live there quietly
as well as we can. Your jewelry alone may be called a fortune. If you
wish to marry some honest man, so much the better; still better will it
be if I can find one. If you don't consent to do this, I will kill
"This time the comtesse ordered her daughter to go to bed and never to
speak again in this manner, so unbecoming in the mouth of a child toward
"Yvette's answer to this was: 'I give you a month to reflect. If, at the
end of that month, we have not changed our way of living, I will kill
myself, since there is no other honorable issue left to my life.'
"And she left the room.
"At the end of a month the Comtesse Samoris had resumed her usual
entertainments, as though nothing had occurred. One day, under the
pretext that she had a bad toothache, Yvette purchased a few drops of
chloroform from a neighboring chemist. The next day she purchased more,
and every time she went out she managed to procure small doses of the
narcotic. She filled a bottle with it.
"One morning she was found in bed, lifeless and already quite cold, with
a cotton mask soaked in chloroform over her face.
"Her coffin was covered with flowers, the church was hung in white.
There was a large crowd at the funeral ceremony.
"Ah! well, if I had known--but you never can know--I would have married
that girl, for she was infernally pretty."
"And what became of the mother?"
"Oh! she shed a lot of tears over it. She has only begun to receive
visits again for the past week."
"And what explanation is given of the girl's death?"
"Oh! they pretended that it was an accident caused by a new stove, the
mechanism of which got out of order. As a good many such accidents have
occurred, the thing seemed probable enough."
The widow of Paolo Saverini lived alone with her son in a poor little
house on the outskirts of Bonifacio. The town, built on an outjutting
part of the mountain, in places even overhanging the sea, looks across
the straits, full of sandbanks, towards the southernmost coast of
Sardinia. Beneath it, on the other side and almost surrounding it, is a
cleft in the cliff like an immense corridor which serves as a harbor, and
along it the little Italian and Sardinian fishing boats come by a
circuitous route between precipitous cliffs as far as the first houses,
and every two weeks the old, wheezy steamer which makes the trip to
On the white mountain the houses, massed together, makes an even whiter
spot. They look like the nests of wild birds, clinging to this peak,
overlooking this terrible passage, where vessels rarely venture. The
wind, which blows uninterruptedly, has swept bare the forbidding coast;
it drives through the narrow straits and lays waste both sides. The pale
streaks of foam, clinging to the black rocks, whose countless peaks rise
up out of the water, look like bits of rag floating and drifting on the
surface of the sea.
The house of widow Saverini, clinging to the very edge of the precipice,
looks out, through its three windows, over this wild and desolate
She lived there alone, with her son Antonia and their dog "Semillante," a
big, thin beast, with a long rough coat, of the sheep-dog breed. The
young man took her with him when out hunting.
One night, after some kind of a quarrel, Antoine Saverini was
treacherously stabbed by Nicolas Ravolati, who escaped the same evening
When the old mother received the body of her child, which the neighbors
had brought back to her, she did not cry, but she stayed there for a long
time motionless, watching him. Then, stretching her wrinkled hand over
the body, she promised him a vendetta. She did not wish anybody near
her, and she shut herself up beside the body with the dog, which howled
continuously, standing at the foot of the bed, her head stretched towards
her master and her tail between her legs. She did not move any more than
did the mother, who, now leaning over the body with a blank stare, was
weeping silently and watching it.
The young man, lying on his back, dressed in his jacket of coarse cloth,
torn at the chest, seemed to be asleep. But he had blood all over him;
on his shirt, which had been torn off in order to administer the first
aid; on his vest, on his trousers, on his face, on his hands. Clots of
blood had hardened in his beard and in his hair.
His old mother began to talk to him. At the sound of this voice the dog
"Never fear, my boy, my little baby, you shall be avenged. Sleep, sleep;
you shall be avenged. Do you hear? It's your mother's promise! And she
always keeps her word, your mother does, you know she does."
Slowly she leaned over him, pressing her cold lips to his dead ones.
Then Semillante began to howl again with a long, monotonous, penetrating,
The two of them, the woman and the dog, remained there until morning.
Antoine Saverini was buried the next day and soon his name ceased to be
mentioned in Bonifacio.
He had neither brothers nor cousins. No man was there to carry on the
vendetta. His mother, the old woman, alone pondered over it.
On the other side of the straits she saw, from morning until night, a
little white speck on the coast. It was the little Sardinian village
Longosardo, where Corsican criminals take refuge when they are too
closely pursued. They compose almost the entire population of this
hamlet, opposite their native island, awaiting the time to return, to go
back to the "maquis." She knew that Nicolas Ravolati had sought refuge
in this village.
All alone, all day long, seated at her window, she was looking over there
and thinking of revenge. How could she do anything without help--she, an
invalid and so near death? But she had promised, she had sworn on the
body. She could not forget, she could not wait. What could she do? She
no longer slept at night; she had neither rest nor peace of mind; she
thought persistently. The dog, dozing at her feet, would sometimes lift
her head and howl. Since her master's death she often howled thus, as
though she were calling him, as though her beast's soul, inconsolable
too, had also retained a recollection that nothing could wipe out.
One night, as Semillante began to howl, the mother suddenly got hold of
an idea, a savage, vindictive, fierce idea. She thought it over until
morning. Then, having arisen at daybreak she went to church. She
prayed, prostrate on the floor, begging the Lord to help her, to support
her, to give to her poor, broken-down body the strength which she needed
in order to avenge her son.
She returned home. In her yard she had an old barrel, which acted as a
cistern. She turned it over, emptied it, made it fast to the ground with
sticks and stones. Then she chained Semillante to this improvised kennel
and went into the house.
She walked ceaselessly now, her eyes always fixed on the distant coast of
Sardinia. He was over there, the murderer.
All day and all night the dog howled. In the morning the old woman
brought her some water in a bowl, but nothing more; no soup, no bread.
Another day went by. Semillante, exhausted, was sleeping. The following
day her eyes were shining, her hair on end and she was pulling wildly at
All this day the old woman gave her nothing to eat. The beast, furious,
was barking hoarsely. Another night went by.
Then, at daybreak, Mother Saverini asked a neighbor for some straw. She
took the old rags which had formerly been worn by her husband and stuffed
them so as to make them look like a human body.
Having planted a stick in the ground, in front of Semillante's kennel,
she tied to it this dummy, which seemed to be standing up. Then she made
a head out of some old rags.
The dog, surprised, was watching this straw man, and was quiet, although
famished. Then the old woman went to the store and bought a piece of
black sausage. When she got home she started a fire in the yard, near
the kennel, and cooked the sausage. Semillante, frantic, was jumping
about, frothing at the mouth, her eyes fixed on the food, the odor of
which went right to her stomach.
Then the mother made of the smoking sausage a necktie for the dummy. She
tied it very tight around the neck with string, and when she had finished
she untied the dog.
With one leap the beast jumped at the dummy's throat, and with her paws
on its shoulders she began to tear at it. She would fall back with a
piece of food in her mouth, then would jump again, sinking her fangs into
the string, and snatching few pieces of meat she would fall back again
and once more spring forward. She was tearing up the face with her teeth
and the whole neck was in tatters.
The old woman, motionless and silent, was watching eagerly. Then she
chained the beast up again, made her fast for two more days and began
this strange performance again.
For three months she accustomed her to this battle, to this meal
conquered by a fight. She no longer chained her up, but just pointed to
She had taught her to tear him up and to devour him without even leaving
any traces in her throat.
Then, as a reward, she would give her a piece of sausage.
As soon as she saw the man, Semillante would begin to tremble. Then she
would look up to her mistress, who, lifting her finger, would cry, "Go!"
in a shrill tone.
When she thought that the proper time had come, the widow went to
confession and, one Sunday morning she partook of communion with an
ecstatic fervor. Then, putting on men's clothes and looking like an old
tramp, she struck a bargain with a Sardinian fisherman who carried her
and her dog to the other side of the straits.
In a bag she had a large piece of sausage. Semillante had had nothing to
eat for two days. The old woman kept letting her smell the food and
whetting her appetite.
They got to Longosardo. The Corsican woman walked with a limp. She went
to a baker's shop and asked for Nicolas Ravolati. He had taken up his
old trade, that of carpenter. He was working alone at the back of his
The old woman opened the door and called:
He turned around. Then releasing her dog, she cried:
"Go, go! Eat him up! eat him up!"
The maddened animal sprang for his throat. The man stretched out his
arms, clasped the dog and rolled to the ground. For a few seconds he
squirmed, beating the ground with his feet. Then he stopped moving,
while Semillante dug her fangs into his throat and tore it to ribbons.
Two neighbors, seated before their door, remembered perfectly having seen
an old beggar come out with a thin, black dog which was eating something
that its master was giving him.
At nightfall the old woman was at home again. She slept well that night.
MY TWENTY-FIVE DAYS
I had just taken possession of my room in the hotel, a narrow den between
two papered partitions, through which I could hear every sound made by my
neighbors; and I was beginning to arrange my clothes and linen in the
wardrobe with a long mirror, when I opened the drawer which is in this
piece of furniture. I immediately noticed a roll of paper. Having
opened it, I spread it out before me, and read this title:
My Twenty-five Days.
It was the diary of a guest at the watering place, of the last occupant
of my room, and had been forgotten at the moment of departure.
These notes may be of some interest to sensible and healthy persons who
never leave their own homes. It is for their benefit that I transcribe
them without altering a letter.
"CHATEL-GUYON, July 15th.
"At the first glance it is not lively, this country. However, I am going
to spend twenty-five days here, to have my liver and stomach treated, and
to get thin. The twenty-five days of any one taking the baths are very
like the twenty-eight days of the reserves; they are all devoted to
fatigue duty, severe fatigue duty. To-day I have done nothing as yet;
I have been getting settled. I have made the acquaintance of the
locality and of the doctor. Chatel-Guyon consists of a stream in which
flows yellow water, in the midst of several hillocks on which are a
casino, some houses, and some stone crosses. On the bank of the stream,
at the end of the valley, may be seen a square building surrounded by a
little garden; this is the bathing establishment. Sad people wander
around this building--the invalids. A great silence reigns in the walks
shaded by trees, for this is not a pleasure resort, but a true health
resort; one takes care of one's health as a business, and one gets well,
so it seems.
"Those who know affirm, even, that the mineral springs perform true
miracles here. However, no votive offering is hung around the cashier's
"From time to time a gentleman or a lady comes over to a kiosk with a
slate roof, which shelters a woman of smiling and gentle aspect, and a
spring boiling in a basin of cement: Not a word is exchanged between the
invalid and the female custodian of the healing water. She hands the
newcomer a little glass in which air bubbles sparkle in the transparent
liquid. The guest drinks and goes off with a grave step to resume his
interrupted walk beneath the trees.
"No noise in the little park, no breath of air in the leaves; no voice
passes through this silence. One ought to write at the entrance to this
district: 'No one laughs here; they take care of their health.'
"The people who chat resemble mutes who merely open their mouths to
simulate sounds, so afraid are they that their voices might escape.
"In the hotel, the same silence. It is a big hotel, where you dine
solemnly with people of good position, who have nothing to say to each
other. Their manners bespeak good breeding, and their faces reflect the
conviction of a superiority of which it might be difficult for some to
give actual proofs.
"At two o'clock I made my way up to the Casino, a little wooden but
perched on a hillock, which one reaches by a goat path. But the view
from that height is admirable. Chatel-Guyon is situated in a very narrow
valley, exactly between the, plain and the mountain. I perceive, at the
left, the first great billows of the mountains of Auvergne, covered with
woods, and here and there big gray patches, hard masses of lava, for we
are at the foot of the extinct volcanoes. At the right, through the
narrow cut of the valley, I discover a plain, infinite as the sea,
steeped in a bluish fog which lets one only dimly discern the villages,
the towns, the yellow fields of ripe grain, and the green squares of
meadowland shaded with apple trees. It is the Limagne, an immense level,
always enveloped in a light veil of vapor.
"The night has come. And now, after having dined alone, I write these
lines beside my open window. I hear, over there, in front of me, the
little orchestra of the Casino, which plays airs just as a foolish bird
might sing all alone in the desert.
"A dog barks at intervals. This great calm does one good. Goodnight.
"July 16th.--Nothing new. I have taken a bath and then a shower bath.
I have swallowed three glasses of water, and I have walked along the
paths in the park, a quarter of an hour between each glass, then half an
hour after the last. I have begun my twenty-five days.
"July 17th.--Remarked two mysterious, pretty women who are taking their
baths and their meals after every one else has finished.
"July 18th.--Nothing new.
"July 19th.--Saw the two pretty women again. They have style and a
little indescribable air which I like very much.
"July 20th.--Long walk in a charming wooded valley, as far as the
Hermitage of Sans-Souci. This country is delightful, although sad; but
so calm; so sweet, so green. One meets along the mountain roads long
wagons loaded with hay, drawn by two cows at a slow pace or held back by
them in going down the slopes with a great effort of their heads, which
are yoked together. A man with a big black hat on his head is driving
them with a slender stick, tipping them on the side or on the forehead;
and often with a simple gesture, an energetic and serious gesture, he
suddenly halts them when the excessive load precipitates their journey
down the too rugged descents.
"The air is good to inhale in these valleys. And, if it is very warm,
the dust bears with it a light odor of vanilla and of the stable, for so
many cows pass over these routes that they leave reminders everywhere.
And this odor is a perfume, when it would be a stench if it came from
"July 21st.--Excursion to the valley of the Enval. It is a narrow gorge
inclosed by superb rocks at the very foot of the mountain. A stream
flows amid the heaped-up boulders.
"As I reached the bottom of this ravine I heard women's voices, and I
soon perceived the two mysterious ladies of my hotel, who were chatting,
seated on a stone.
"The occasion appeared to me a good one, and I introduced myself without
hesitation. My overtures were received without embarrassment. We walked
back together to the hotel. And we talked about Paris. They knew, it
seemed, many people whom I knew, too. Who can they be?
"I shall see them to-morrow. There is nothing more amusing than such
meetings as this.
"July 22d.--Day passed almost entirely with the two unknown ladies. They
are very pretty, by Jove!--one a brunette and the other a blonde. They
say they are widows. H'm?
"I offered to accompany them to Royat tomorrow, and they accepted my
"Chatel-Guyon is less sad than I thought on my arrival.
"July 23d.--Day spent at Royat. Royat is a little patch of hotels at the
bottom of a valley, at the gate of Clermont-Ferrand. A great many people
there. A large park full of life. Superb view of the Puyde-Dome, seen
at the end of a perspective of valleys.
"My fair companions are very popular, which is flattering to me. The man
who escorts a pretty woman always believes himself crowned with an
aureole; with much more reason, the man who is accompanied by one on each
side of him. Nothing is so pleasant as to dine in a fashionable
restaurant with a female companion at whom everybody stares, and there is
nothing better calculated to exalt a man in the estimation of his
"To go to the Bois, in a trap drawn by a sorry nag, or to go out into the
boulevard escorted by a plain woman, are the two most humiliating things
that could happen to a sensitive heart that values the opinion of others.
Of all luxuries, woman is the rarest and the most distinguished; she is
the one that costs most and which we desire most; she is, therefore the
one that we should seek by preference to exhibit to the jealous eyes of
"To exhibit to the world a pretty woman leaning on your arm is to excite,
all at once, every kind of jealousy. It is as much as to say: 'Look
here! I am rich, since I possess this rare and costly object; I have
taste, since I have known how to discover this pearl; perhaps, even, I am
loved by her, unless I am deceived by her, which would still prove that
others also consider her charming.
"But, what a disgrace it is to walk about town with an ugly woman!
"And how many humiliating things this gives people to understand!
"In the first place, they assume she must be your wife, for how could it
be supposed that you would have an unattractive sweetheart? A true woman
may be ungraceful; but then, her ugliness implies a thousand disagreeable
things for you. One supposes you must be a notary or a magistrate, as
these two professions have a monopoly of grotesque and well-dowered
spouses. Now, is this not distressing to a man? And then, it seems to
proclaim to the public that you have the odious courage, and are even
under a legal obligation, to caress that ridiculous face and that ill-
shaped body, and that you will, without doubt, be shameless enough to
make a mother of this by no means desirable being--which is the very
height of the ridiculous.
"July 24th.--I never leave the side of the two unknown widows, whom I am
beginning to know quite well. This country is delightful and our hotel
is excellent. Good season. The treatment is doing me an immense amount
"July 25th.--Drive in a landau to the lake of Tazenat. An exquisite and
unexpected jaunt decided on at luncheon. We started immediately on
rising from table. After a long journey through the mountains we
suddenly perceived an admirable little lake, quite round, very blue,
clear as glass, and situated at the bottom of an extinct crater. One
side of this immense basin is barren, the other is wooded. In the midst
of the trees is a small house where sleeps a good-natured, intellectual
man, a sage who passes his days in this Virgilian region. He opens his
dwelling for us. An idea comes into my head. I exclaim:
"'Supposing we bathe?'
"'Yes,' they said, 'but costumes.'
"'Bah! we are in the wilderness.'
"And we did bathe! "If I were a poet, how I would describe this
unforgettable vision of those lissome young forms in the transparency of
the water! The high, sloping sides shut in the lake, motionless,
gleaming and round, as a silver coin; the sun pours into it a flood of
warm light; and along the rocks the fair forms move in the almost
invisible water in which the swimmers seemed suspended. On the sand at
the bottom of the lake one could see their shadows as they moved along.
"July 26th.--Some persons seem to look with shocked and disapproving eyes
at my rapid intimacy with the two fair widows. There are some people,
then, who imagine that life consists in being bored. Everything that
appears to be amusing becomes immediately a breach of good breeding or
morality. For them duty has inflexible and mortally tedious rules.
"I would draw their attention, with all respect, to the fact that duty is
not the same for Mormons, Arabs Zulus, Turks, Englishmen, and Frenchmen,
and that there are very virtuous people among all these nations.
"I will cite a single example. As regards women, duty begins in England
at nine years of age; in France at fifteen. As for me, I take a little
of each people's notion of duty, and of the whole I make a result
comparable to the morality of good King Solomon.
"July 27th.--Good news. I have lost 620 grams in weight. Excellent,
this water of Chatel-Guyon! I am taking the widows to dine at Riom. A
sad town whose anagram constitutes it an objectionable neighbor to
healing springs: Riom, Mori.
"July 28th.--Hello, how's this! My two widows have been visited by two
gentlemen who came to look for them. Two widowers, without doubt. They
are leaving this evening. They have written to me on fancy notepaper.
"July 29th.--Alone! Long excursion on foot to the extinct crater of
Nachere. Splendid view.
"July 30th.--Nothing. I am taking the treatment.
"July 31st.--Ditto. Ditto. This pretty country is full of polluted
streams. I am drawing the notice of the municipality to the abominable
sewer which poisons the road in front of the hotel. All the kitchen
refuse of the establishment is thrown into it. This is a good way to
"August 1st.--Nothing. The treatment.
"August 2d.--Admirable walk to Chateauneuf, a place of sojourn for
rheumatic patients, where everybody is lame. Nothing can be queerer than
this population of cripples!
"August 3d.--Nothing. The treatment.
"August 4th.--Ditto. Ditto.
"August 5th.--Ditto. Ditto.
"August 6th.--Despair! I have just weighed myself. I have gained 310
grams. But then?
"August 7th.--Drove sixty-six kilometres in a carriage on the mountain.
I will not mention the name of the country through respect for its women.
"This excursion had been pointed out to me as a beautiful one, and one
that was rarely made. After four hours on the road, I arrived at a
rather pretty village on the banks of a river in the midst of an
admirable wood of walnut trees. I had not yet seen a forest of walnut
trees of such dimensions in Auvergne. It constitutes, moreover, all the
wealth of the district, for it is planted on the village common. This
common was formerly only a hillside covered with brushwood. The
authorities had tried in vain to get it cultivated. There was scarcely
enough pasture on it to feed a few sheep.
"To-day it is a superb wood, thanks to the women, and it has a curious
name: it is called the Sins of the Cure.
"Now I must say that the women of the mountain districts have the
reputation of being light, lighter than in the plain. A bachelor who
meets them owes them at least a kiss; and if he does not take more he is
only a blockhead. If we consider this fairly, this way of looking at the
matter is the only one that is logical and reasonable. As woman, whether
she be of the town or the country, has her natural mission to please man,
man should always show her that she pleases him. If he abstains from
every sort of demonstration, this means that he considers her ugly; it is
almost an insult to her. If I were a woman, I would not receive, a
second time, a man who failed to show me respect at our first meeting,
for I would consider that he had failed in appreciation of my beauty, my
charm, and my feminine qualities.
"So the bachelors of the village X often proved to the women of the
district that they found them to their taste, and, as the cure was unable
to prevent these demonstrations, as gallant as they were natural, he
resolved to utilize them for the benefit of the general prosperity. So
he imposed as a penance on every woman who had gone wrong that she should
plant a walnut tree on the common. And every night lanterns were seen
moving about like will-o'-the-wisps on the hillock, for the erring ones
scarcely like to perform their penance in broad daylight.
"In two years there was no longer any room on the lands belonging to the
village, and to-day they calculate that there are more than three
thousand trees around the belfry which rings out the services amid their
foliage. These are the Sins of the Cure.
"Since we have been seeking for so many ways of rewooding France, the
Administration of Forests might surely enter into some arrangement with
the clergy to employ a method so simple as that employed by this humble
"August 8th.--I am packing up my trunks and saying good-by to the
charming little district so calm and silent, to the green mountain, to
the quiet valleys, to the deserted Casino, from which you can see, almost
veiled by its light, bluish mist, the immense plain of the Limagne.
"I shall leave to-morrow."
Here the manuscript stopped. I will add nothing to it, my impressions of
the country not having been exactly the same as those of my predecessor.
For I did not find the two widows!
You say you cannot possibly understand it, and I believe you. You think
I am losing my mind? Perhaps I am, but for other reasons than those you
imagine, my dear friend.
Yes, I am going to be married, and will tell you what has led me to take
I may add that I know very little of the girl who is going to become my
wife to-morrow; I have only seen her four or five times. I know that
there is nothing unpleasing about her, and that is enough for my purpose.
She is small, fair, and stout; so, of course, the day after to-morrow I
shall ardently wish for a tall, dark, thin woman.
She is not rich, and belongs to the middle classes. She is a girl such
as you may find by the gross, well adapted for matrimony, without any
apparent faults, and with no particularly striking qualities. People say
"Mlle. Lajolle is a very nice girl," and tomorrow they will say: "What a
very nice woman Madame Raymon is." She belongs, in a word, to that
immense number of girls whom one is glad to have for one's wife, till the
moment comes when one discovers that one happens to prefer all other
women to that particular woman whom one has married.
"Well," you will say to me, "what on earth did you get married for?"
I hardly like to tell you the strange and seemingly improbable reason
that urged me on to this senseless act; the fact, however, is that I am
afraid of being alone.
I don't know how to tell you or to make you understand me, but my state
of mind is so wretched that you will pity me and despise me.
I do not want to be alone any longer at night. I want to feel that there
is some one close to me, touching me, a being who can speak and say
something, no matter what it be.
I wish to be able to awaken somebody by my side, so that I may be able to
ask some sudden question, a stupid question even, if I feel inclined, so
that I may hear a human voice, and feel that there is some waking soul
close to me, some one whose reason is at work; so that when I hastily
light the candle I may see some human face by my side--because--because
--I am ashamed to confess it--because I am afraid of being alone.
Oh, you don't understand me yet.
I am not afraid of any danger; if a man were to come into the room, I
should kill him without trembling. I am not afraid of ghosts, nor do I
believe in the supernatural. I am not afraid of dead people, for I
believe in the total annihilation of every being that disappears from the
face of this earth.
Well--yes, well, it must be told: I am afraid of myself, afraid of that
horrible sensation of incomprehensible fear.
You may laugh, if you like. It is terrible, and I cannot get over it.
I am afraid of the walls, of the furniture, of the familiar objects;
which are animated, as far as I am concerned, by a kind of animal life.
Above all, I am afraid of my own dreadful thoughts, of my reason, which
seems as if it were about to leave me, driven away by a mysterious and
At first I feel a vague uneasiness in my mind, which causes a cold shiver
to run all over me. I look round, and of course nothing is to be seen,
and I wish that there were something there, no matter what, as long as it
were something tangible. I am frightened merely because I cannot
understand my own terror.
If I speak, I am afraid of my own voice. If I walk, I am afraid of I
know not what, behind the door, behind the curtains, in the cupboard, or
under my bed, and yet all the time I know there is nothing anywhere, and
I turn round suddenly because I am afraid of what is behind me, although
there is nothing there, and I know it.
I become agitated. I feel that my fear increases, and so I shut myself
up in my own room, get into bed, and hide under the clothes; and there,
cowering down, rolled into a ball, I close my eyes in despair, and remain
thus for an indefinite time, remembering that my candle is alight on the
table by my bedside, and that I ought to put it out, and yet--I dare not
It is very terrible, is it not, to be like that?
Formerly I felt nothing of all that. I came home quite calm, and went up
and down my apartment without anything disturbing my peace of mind. Had
any one told me that I should be attacked by a malady--for I can call it
nothing else--of most improbable fear, such a stupid and terrible malady
as it is, I should have laughed outright. I was certainly never afraid
of opening the door in the dark. I went to bed slowly, without locking
it, and never got up in the middle of the night to make sure that
everything was firmly closed.
It began last year in a very strange manner on a damp autumn evening.
When my servant had left the room, after I had dined, I asked myself what
I was going to do. I walked up and down my room for some time, feeling
tired without any reason for it, unable to work, and even without energy
to read. A fine rain was falling, and I felt unhappy, a prey to one of
those fits of despondency, without any apparent cause, which make us feel
inclined to cry, or to talk, no matter to whom, so as to shake off our
I felt that I was alone, and my rooms seemed to me to be more empty than
they had ever been before. I was in the midst of infinite and
overwhelming solitude. What was I to do? I sat down, but a kind of
nervous impatience seemed to affect my legs, so I got up and began to
walk about again. I was, perhaps, rather feverish, for my hands, which I
had clasped behind me, as one often does when walking slowly, almost
seemed to burn one another. Then suddenly a cold shiver ran down my
back, and I thought the damp air might have penetrated into my rooms, so
I lit the fire for the first time that year, and sat down again and
looked at the flames. But soon I felt that I could not possibly remain
quiet, and so I got up again and determined to go out, to pull myself
together, and to find a friend to bear me company.
I could not find anyone, so I walked to the boulevard to try and meet
some acquaintance or other there.
It was wretched everywhere, and the wet pavement glistened in the
gaslight, while the oppressive warmth of the almost impalpable rain lay
heavily over the streets and seemed to obscure the light of the lamps.
I went on slowly, saying to myself: "I shall not find a soul to talk to."
I glanced into several cafes, from the Madeleine as far as the Faubourg
Poissoniere, and saw many unhappy-looking individuals sitting at the
tables who did not seem even to have enough energy left to finish the
refreshments they had ordered.
For a long time I wandered aimlessly up and down, and about midnight I
started for home. I was very calm and very tired. My janitor opened the
door at once, which was quite unusual for him, and I thought that another
lodger had probably just come in.
When I go out I always double-lock the door of my room, and I found it
merely closed, which surprised me; but I supposed that some letters had
been brought up for me in the course of the evening.
I went in, and found my fire still burning so that it lighted up the room
a little, and, while in the act of taking up a candle, I noticed somebody
sitting in my armchair by the fire, warming his feet, with his back
I was not in the slightest degree frightened. I thought, very naturally,
that some friend or other had come to see me. No doubt the porter, to
whom I had said I was going out, had lent him his own key. In a moment I
remembered all the circumstances of my return, how the street door had
been opened immediately, and that my own door was only latched and not
I could see nothing of my friend but his head, and he had evidently gone
to sleep while waiting for me, so I went up to him to rouse him. I saw
him quite distinctly; his right arm was hanging down and his legs were
crossed; the position of his head, which was somewhat inclined to the
left of the armchair, seemed to indicate that he was asleep. "Who can it
be?" I asked myself. I could not see clearly, as the room was rather
dark, so I put out my hand to touch him on the shoulder, and it came in
contact with the back of the chair. There was nobody there; the seat was
I fairly jumped with fright. For a moment I drew back as if confronted
by some terrible danger; then I turned round again, impelled by an
imperious standing upright, panting with fear, so upset that I could not
collect my thoughts, and ready to faint.
But I am a cool man, and soon recovered myself. I thought: "It is a mere
hallucination, that is all," and I immediately began to reflect on this
phenomenon. Thoughts fly quickly at such moments.
I had been suffering from an hallucination, that was an incontestable
fact. My mind had been perfectly lucid and had acted regularly and
logically, so there was nothing the matter with the brain. It was only
my eyes that had been deceived; they had had a vision, one of those
visions which lead simple folk to believe in miracles. It was a nervous
seizure of the optical apparatus, nothing more; the eyes were rather
I lit my candle, and when I stooped down to the fire in doing so I
noticed that I was trembling, and I raised myself up with a jump, as if
somebody had touched me from behind.
I was certainly not by any means calm.
I walked up and down a little, and hummed a tune or two. Then I double-
locked the door and felt rather reassured; now, at any rate, nobody could
I sat down again and thought over my adventure for a long time; then I
went to bed and blew out my light.
For some minutes all went well; I lay quietly on my back, but presently
an irresistible desire seized me to look round the room, and I turned
over on my side.
My fire was nearly out, and the few glowing embers threw a faint light on
the floor by the chair, where I fancied I saw the man sitting again.
I quickly struck a match, but I had been mistaken; there was nothing
there. I got up, however, and hid the chair behind my bed, and tried to
get to sleep, as the room was now dark; but I had not forgotten myself
for more than five minutes, when in my dream I saw all the scene which I
had previously witnessed as clearly as if it were reality. I woke up
with a start, and having lit the candle, sat up in bed, without venturing
even to try to go to sleep again.
Twice, however, sleep overcame me for a few moments in spite of myself,
and twice I saw the same thing again, till I fancied I was going mad.
When day broke, however, I thought that I was cured, and slept peacefully
It was all past and over. I had been feverish, had had the nightmare. I
know not what. I had been ill, in fact, but yet thought I was a great
I enjoyed myself thoroughly that evening. I dined at a restaurant and
afterward went to the theatre, and then started for home. But as I got
near the house I was once more seized by a strange feeling of uneasiness.
I was afraid of seeing him again. I was not afraid of him, not afraid of
his presence, in which I did not believe; but I was afraid of being
deceived again. I was afraid of some fresh hallucination, afraid lest
fear should take possession of me.
For more than an hour I wandered up and down the pavement; then, feeling
that I was really too foolish, I returned home. I breathed so hard that
I could hardly get upstairs, and remained standing outside my door for
more than ten minutes; then suddenly I had a courageous impulse and my
will asserted itself. I inserted my key into the lock, and went into the
apartment with a candle in my hand. I kicked open my bedroom door, which
was partly open, and cast a frightened glance toward the fireplace.
There was nothing there. A-h! What a relief and what a delight! What a
deliverance! I walked up and down briskly and boldly, but I was not
altogether reassured, and kept turning round with a jump; the very
shadows in the corners disquieted me.
I slept badly, and was constantly disturbed by imaginary noises, but did
not see him; no, that was all over.
Since that time I have been afraid of being alone at night. I feel that
the spectre is there, close to me, around me; but it has not appeared to
And supposing it did, what would it matter, since I do not believe in it,
and know that it is nothing?
However, it still worries me, because I am constantly thinking of it.
His right arm hanging down and his head inclined to the left like a man
who was asleep--I don't want to think about it!
Why, however, am I so persistently possessed with this idea? His feet
were close to the fire!
He haunts me; it is very stupid, but who and what is he? I know that he
does not exist except in my cowardly imagination, in my fears, and in my
agony. There--enough of that!
Yes, it is all very well for me to reason with myself, to stiffen my
backbone, so to say; but I cannot remain at home because I know he is
there. I know I shall not see him again; he will not show himself again;
that is all over. But he is there, all the same, in my thoughts. He
remains invisible, but that does not prevent his being there. He is
behind the doors, in the closed cupboard, in the wardrobe, under the bed,
in every dark corner. If I open the door or the cupboard, if I take the
candle to look under the bed and throw a light on the dark places he is
there no longer, but I feel that he is behind me. I turn round, certain
that I shall not see him, that I shall never see him again; but for all
that, he is behind me.
It is very stupid, it is dreadful; but what am I to do? I cannot help
But if there were two of us in the place I feel certain that he would not
be there any longer, for he is there just because I am alone, simply and
solely because I am alone!
LEGEND OF MONT ST. MICHEL
I had first seen it from Cancale, this fairy castle in the sea. I got an
indistinct impression of it as of a gray shadow outlined against the
misty sky. I saw it again from Avranches at sunset. The immense stretch
of sand was red, the horizon was red, the whole boundless bay was red.
The rocky castle rising out there in the distance like a weird,
seignorial residence, like a dream palace, strange and beautiful-this
alone remained black in the crimson light of the dying day.
The following morning at dawn I went toward it across the sands, my eyes
fastened on this, gigantic jewel, as big as a mountain, cut like a cameo,
and as dainty as lace. The nearer I approached the greater my admiration
grew, for nothing in the world could be more wonderful or more perfect.
As surprised as if I had discovered the habitation of a god, I wandered
through those halls supported by frail or massive columns, raising my
eyes in wonder to those spires which looked like rockets starting for the
sky, and to that marvellous assemblage of towers, of gargoyles, of
slender and charming ornaments, a regular fireworks of stone, granite
lace, a masterpiece of colossal and delicate architecture.
As I was looking up in ecstasy a Lower Normandy peasant came up to me and
told me the story of the great quarrel between Saint Michael and the
A sceptical genius has said: "God made man in his image and man has
returned the compliment."
This saying is an eternal truth, and it would be very curious to write
the history of the local divinity of every continent as well as the
history of the patron saints in each one of our provinces. The negro has
his ferocious man-eating idols; the polygamous Mahometan fills his
paradise with women; the Greeks, like a practical people, deified all the
Every village in France is under the influence of some protecting saint,
modelled according to the characteristics of the inhabitants.
Saint Michael watches over Lower Normandy, Saint Michael, the radiant and
victorious angel, the sword-carrier, the hero of Heaven, the victorious,
the conqueror of Satan.
But this is how the Lower Normandy peasant, cunning, deceitful and
tricky, understands and tells of the struggle between the great saint and
To escape from the malice of his neighbor, the devil, Saint Michael built
himself, in the open ocean, this habitation worthy of an archangel; and
only such a saint could build a residence of such magnificence.
But as he still feared the approaches of the wicked one, he surrounded
his domains by quicksands, more treacherous even than the sea.
The devil lived in a humble cottage on the hill, but he owned all the
salt marshes, the rich lands where grow the finest crops, the wooded
valleys and all the fertile hills of the country, while the saint a ruled
only over the sands. Therefore Satan was rich, whereas Saint Michael was
as poor as a church mouse.
After a few years of fasting the saint grew tired of this state of
affairs and began to think of some compromise with the devil, but the
matter was by no means easy, as Satan kept a good hold on his crops.
He thought the thing over for about six months; then one morning he
walked across to the shore. The demon was eating his soup in front of
his door when he saw the saint. He immediately rushed toward him, kissed
the hem of his sleeve, invited him in and offered him refreshments.
Saint Michael drank a bowl of milk and then began: "I have come here to
propose to you a good bargain."
The devil, candid and trustful, answered: "That will suit me."
"Here it is. Give me all your lands."
Satan, growing alarmed, wished to speak "But--"
She saint continued: "Listen first. Give me all your lands. I will take
care of all the work, the ploughing, the sowing, the fertilizing,
everything, and we will share the crops equally. How does that suit
The devil, who was naturally lazy, accepted. He only demanded in
addition a few of those delicious gray mullet which are caught around the
solitary mount. Saint Michael promised the fish.
They grasped hands and spat on the ground to show that it was a bargain,
and the saint continued: "See here, so that you will have nothing to
complain of, choose that part of the crops which you prefer: the part
that grows above ground or the part that stays in the ground." Satan
cried out: "I will take all that will be above ground."
"It's a bargain!" said the saint. And he went away.
Six months later, all over the immense domain of the devil, one could see
nothing but carrots, turnips, onions, salsify, all the plants whose juicy
roots are good and savory and whose useless leaves are good for nothing
but for feeding animals.
Satan wished to break the contract, calling Saint Michael a swindler.
But the saint, who had developed quite a taste for agriculture, went back
to see the devil and said:
"Really, I hadn't thought of that at all; it was just an accident, no
fault of mine. And to make things fair with you, this year I'll let you
take everything that is under the ground."
"Very well," answered Satan.
The following spring all the evil spirit's lands were covered with golden
wheat, oats as big as beans, flax, magnificent colza, red clover, peas,
cabbage, artichokes, everything that develops into grains or fruit in the
Once more Satan received nothing, and this time he completely lost his
temper. He took back his fields and remained deaf to all the fresh
propositions of his neighbor.
A whole year rolled by. From the top of his lonely manor Saint Michael
looked at the distant and fertile lands and watched the devil direct the
work, take in his crops and thresh the wheat. And he grew angry,
exasperated at his powerlessness.
As he was no longer able to deceive Satan, he decided to wreak vengeance
on him, and he went out to invite him to dinner for the following Monday.
"You have been very unfortunate in your dealings with me," he said;
"I know it, but I don't want any ill feeling between us, and I expect you
to dine with me. I'll give you some good things to eat."
Satan, who was as greedy as he was lazy, accepted eagerly. On the day
appointed he donned his finest clothes and set out for the castle.
Saint Michael sat him down to a magnificent meal. First there was a
'vol-au-vent', full of cocks' crests and kidneys, with meat-balls, then
two big gray mullet with cream sauce, a turkey stuffed with chestnuts
soaked in wine, some salt-marsh lamb as tender as cake, vegetables which
melted in the mouth and nice hot pancake which was brought on smoking and
spreading a delicious odor of butter.
They drank new, sweet, sparkling cider and heady red wine, and after each
course they whetted their appetites with some old apple brandy.
The devil drank and ate to his heart's content; in fact he took so much
that he was very uncomfortable, and began to retch.
Then Saint Michael arose in anger and cried in a voice like thunder:
"What! before me, rascal! You dare--before me--"
Satan, terrified, ran away, and the saint, seizing a stick, pursued him.
They ran through the halls, turning round the pillars, running up the
staircases, galloping along the cornices, jumping from gargoyle to
gargoyle. The poor devil, who was woefully ill, was running about madly
and trying hard to escape. At last he found himself at the top of the
last terrace, right at the top, from which could be seen the immense bay,
with its distant towns, sands and pastures. He could no longer escape,
and the saint came up behind him and gave him a furious kick, which shot
him through space like a cannonball.
He shot through the air like a javelin and fell heavily before the town
of Mortain. His horns and claws stuck deep into the rock, which keeps
through eternity the traces of this fall of Satan.
He stood up again, limping, crippled until the end of time, and as he
looked at this fatal castle in the distance, standing out against the
setting sun, he understood well that he would always be vanquished in
this unequal struggle, and he went away limping, heading for distant
countries, leaving to his enemy his fields, his hills, his valleys and
And this is how Saint Michael, the patron saint of Normandy, vanquished
Another people would have dreamed of this battle in an entirely different
A NEW YEAR'S GIFT
Jacques de Randal, having dined at home alone, told his valet he might go
out, and he sat down at his table to write some letters.
He ended every year in this manner, writing and dreaming. He reviewed
the events of his life since last New Year's Day, things that were now
all over and dead; and, in proportion as the faces of his friends rose up
before his eyes, he wrote them a few lines, a cordial New Year's greeting
on the first of January.
So he sat down, opened a drawer, took out of it a woman's photograph,
gazed at it a few moments, and kissed it. Then, having laid it beside a
sheet of notepaper, he began:
"MY DEAR IRENE: You must by this time have received the little
souvenir I sent, you addressed to the maid. I have shut myself up
this evening in order to tell you----"
The pen here ceased to move. Jacques rose up and began walking up and
down the room.
For the last ten months he had had a sweetheart, not like the others, a
woman with whom one engages in a passing intrigue, of the theatrical
world or the demi-monde, but a woman whom he loved and won. He was no
longer a young man, although he was still comparatively young for a man,
and he looked on life seriously in a positive and practical spirit.
Accordingly, he drew up the balance sheet of his passion, as he drew up
every year the balance sheet of friendships that were ended or freshly
contracted, of circumstances and persons that had entered into his life.
His first ardor of love having grown calmer, he asked himself with the
precision of a merchant making a calculation what was the state of his
heart with regard to her, and he tried to form an idea of what it would
be in the future.
He found there a great and deep affection; made up of tenderness,
gratitude and the thousand subtleties which give birth to long and
A ring at the bell made him start. He hesitated. Should he open the
door? But he said to himself that one must always open the door on New
Year's night, to admit the unknown who is passing by and knocks, no
matter who it may be.
So he took a wax candle, passed through the antechamber, drew back the
bolts, turned the key, pulled the door back, and saw his sweetheart
standing pale as a corpse, leaning against the wall.
"What is the matter with you?"
"Are you alone?"
"You are not going out?"
She entered with the air of a woman who knew the house. As soon as she
was in the drawing-room, she sank down on the sofa, and, covering her
face with her hands, began to weep bitterly.
He knelt down at her feet, and tried to remove her hands from her eyes,
so that he might look at them, and exclaimed:
"Irene, Irene, what is the matter with you? I implore you to tell me
what is the matter with you?"
Then, amid her sobs, she murmured:
"I can no longer live like this."
"Live like this? What do you mean?"
"Yes. I can no longer live like this. I have endured so much. He
struck me this afternoon."
"Who? Your husband?"
"Yes, my husband."
He was astonished, having never suspected that her husband could be
brutal. He was a man of the world, of the better class, a clubman, a
lover of horses, a theatergoer and an expert swordsman; he was known,
talked about, appreciated everywhere, having very courteous manners, a
very mediocre intellect, an absence of education and of the real culture
needed in order to think like all well-bred people, and finally a respect
He appeared to devote himself to his wife, as a man ought to do in the
case of wealthy and well-bred people. He displayed enough of anxiety
about her wishes, her health, her dresses, and, beyond that, left her
Randal, having become Irene's friend, had a right to the affectionate
hand-clasp which every husband endowed with good manners owes to his
wife's intimate acquaintance. Then, when Jacques, after having been for
some time the friend, became the lover, his relations with the husband
were more cordial, as is fitting.
Jacques had never dreamed that there were storms in this household, and
he was bewildered at this unexpected revelation.
"How did it happen? Tell me."
Thereupon she related a long story, the entire history of her life since
the day of her marriage, the first disagreement arising out of a mere
nothing, then becoming accentuated at every new difference of opinion
between two dissimilar dispositions.
Then came quarrels, a complete separation, not apparent, but real; next,
her husband showed himself aggressive, suspicious, violent. Now, he was
jealous, jealous of Jacques, and that very day, after a scene, he had
She added with decision: "I will not go back to him. Do with me what you
Jacques sat down opposite to her, their knees touching. He took her
"My dear love, you are going to commit a gross, an irreparable folly. If
you want to leave your husband, put him in the wrong, so that your
position as a woman of the world may be saved."
She asked, as she looked at him uneasily:
"Then, what do you advise me?"
"To go back home and to put up with your life there till the day when you
can obtain either a separation or a divorce, with the honors of war."
"Is not this thing which you advise me to do a little cowardly?"
"No; it is wise and sensible. You have a high position, a reputation to
protect, friends to preserve and relations to deal with. You must not
lose all these through a mere caprice."
She rose up, and said with violence:
"Well, no! I cannot stand it any longer! It is at an end! it is at an
Then, placing her two hands on her lover's shoulders, and looking him
straight in the face, she asked:
"Do you love me?"
"Really and truly?"
"Then take care of me."
"Take care of you? In my own house? Here? Why, you are mad. It would
mean losing you forever; losing you beyond hope of recall! You are mad!"
She replied, slowly and seriously, like a woman who feels the weight of
"Listen, Jacques. He has forbidden me to see you again, and I will not
play this comedy of coming secretly to your house. You must either lose
me or take me."
"My dear Irene, in that case, obtain your divorce, and I will marry you."