Part 27 out of 31
"When I would see him coming in the evening, a little pale, with a
pleased look and a bright eye, would say to myself: 'One more. I am sure
that he has caught one more.' Then I felt a wild desire to question him
and then, again, not to know, to stop his talking if he should begin.
And we would look at each other.
"I knew that he would not keep still, that he would come to the point.
I could feel that from his manner, which seemed to laugh and say: 'I had
a fine adventure to-day, Madeleine.' I would pretend to notice nothing,
to guess nothing; I would set the table, bring on the soup and sit down
"At those times, monsieur, it was as if my friendship for him had been
crushed in my body as with a stone. It hurt. But he did not understand;
he did not know; he felt a need to tell all those things to some one, to
boast, to show how much he was loved, and I was the only one he had to
whom he could talk-the only one. And I would have to listen and drink it
in, like poison.
"He would begin to take his soup and then he would say: 'One more,
"And I would think: 'Here it comes! Goodness! what a man! Why did I
ever meet him?'
"Then he would begin: 'One more! And a beauty, too.' And it would be
some little one from the Vaudeville or else from the Varietes, and some
of the big ones, too, some of the most famous. He would tell me their
names, how their apartments were furnished, everything, everything,
monsieur. Heartbreaking details. And he would go over them and tell his
story over again from beginning to end, so pleased with himself that I
would pretend to laugh so that he would not get angry with me.
"Everything may not have been true! He liked to glorify himself and was
quite capable of inventing such things! They may perhaps also have been
true! On those evenings he would pretend to be tired and wish to go to
bed after supper. We would take supper at eleven, monsieur, for he could
never get back from work earlier.
"When he had finished telling about his adventure he would walk round the
room and smoke cigarettes, and he was so handsome, with his mustache and
curly hair, that I would think: 'It's true, just the same, what he is
telling. Since I myself am crazy about that man, why should not others
be the same?' Then I would feel like crying, shrieking, running away and
jumping out of the window while I was clearing the table and he was
smoking. He would yawn in order to show how tired he was, and he would
say two or three times before going to bed: 'Ah! how well I shall sleep
"I bear him no ill will, because he did not know how he was hurting me.
No, he could not know! He loved to boast about the women just as a
peacock loves to show his feathers. He got to the point where he thought
that all of them looked at him and desired him.
"It was hard when he grew old. Oh, monsieur, when I saw his first white
hair I felt a terrible shock and then a great joy--a wicked joy--but so
great, so great! I said to myself: 'It's the end-it's the end.'
It seemed as if I were about to be released from prison. At last I could
have him to myself, all to myself, when the others would no longer want
"It was one morning in bed. He was still sleeping and I leaned over him
to wake him up with a kiss, when I noticed in his curls, over his temple,
a little thread which shone like silver. What a surprise! I should not
have thought it possible! At first I thought of tearing it out so that
he would not see it, but as I looked carefully I noticed another farther
up. White hair! He was going to have white hair! My heart began to
thump and perspiration stood out all over me, but away down at the bottom
I was happy.
"It was mean to feel thus, but I did my housework with a light heart that
morning, without waking him up, and, as soon as he opened his eyes of his
own accord, I said to him: 'Do you know what I discovered while you were
"'I found white hairs.'
"He started up as if I had tickled him and said angrily: 'It's not true!'
"'Yes, it is. There are four of them over your left temple.'
"He jumped out of bed and ran over to the mirror. He could not find
them. Then I showed him the first one, the lowest, the little curly one,
and I said: 'It's no wonder, after the life that you have been leading.
In two years all will be over for you.'
"Well, monsieur, I had spoken true; two years later one could not
recognize him. How quickly a man changes! He was still handsome, but he
had lost his freshness, and the women no longer ran after him. Ah! what
a life I led at that time! How he treated me! Nothing suited him. He
left his trade to go into the hat business, in which he ate up all his
money. Then he unsuccessfully tried to be an actor, and finally he began
to frequent public balls. Fortunately, he had had common sense enough to
save a little something on which we now live. It is sufficient, but it
is not enormous. And to think that at one time he had almost a fortune.
"Now you see what he does. This habit holds him like a frenzy. He has
to be young; he has to dance with women who smell of perfume and
cosmetics. You poor old darling!"
She was looking at her old snoring husband fondty, ready to cry. Then,
gently tiptoeing up to him, she kissed his hair. The physician had risen
and was getting ready to leave, finding nothing to say to this strange
couple. Just as he was leaving she asked:
"Would you mind giving me your address? If he should grow worse, I could
go and get you."
THE PENGUINS' ROCK
This is the season for penguins.
From April to the end of May, before the Parisian visitors arrive, one
sees, all at once, on the little beach at Etretat several old gentlemen,
booted and belted in shooting costume. They spend four or five days at
the Hotel Hauville, disappear, and return again three weeks later. Then,
after a fresh sojourn, they go away altogether.
One sees them again the following spring.
These are the last penguin hunters, what remain of the old set. There
were about twenty enthusiasts thirty or forty years ago; now there are
only a few of the enthusiastic sportsmen.
The penguin is a very rare bird of passage, with peculiar habits. It
lives the greater part of the year in the latitude of Newfoundland and
the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. But in the breeding season a
flight of emigrants crosses the ocean and comes every year to the same
spot to lay their eggs, to the Penguins' Rock near Etretat. They are
found nowhere else, only there. They have always come there, have always
been chased away, but return again, and will always return. As soon as
the young birds are grown they all fly away, and disappear for a year.
Why do they not go elsewhere? Why not choose some other spot on the long
white, unending cliff that extends from the Pas-de-Calais to Havre? What
force, what invincible instinct, what custom of centuries impels these
birds to come back to this place? What first migration, what tempest,
possibly, once cast their ancestors on this rock? And why do the
children, the grandchildren, all the descendants of the first parents
always return here?
There are not many of them, a hundred at most, as if one single family,
maintaining the tradition, made this annual pilgrimage.
And each spring, as soon as the little wandering tribe has taken up its
abode an the rock, the same sportsmen also reappear in the village. One
knew them formerly when they were young; now they are old, but constant
to the regular appointment which they have kept for thirty or forty
years. They would not miss it for anything in the world.
It was an April evening in one of the later years. Three of the old
sportsmen had arrived; one was missing--M. d'Arnelles.
He had written to no one, given no account of himself. But he was not
dead, like so many of the rest; they would have heard of it. At length,
tired of waiting for him, the other three sat down to table. Dinner was
almost over when a carriage drove into the yard of the hotel, and the
late corner presently entered the dining room.
He sat down, in a good humor, rubbing his hands, and ate with zest. When
one of his comrades remarked with surprise at his being in a frock-coat,
he replied quietly:
"Yes, I had no time to change my clothes."
They retired on leaving the table, for they had to set out before
daybreak in order to take the birds unawares.
There is nothing so pretty as this sport, this early morning expedition.
At three o'clock in the morning the sailors awoke the sportsmen by
throwing sand against the windows. They were ready in a few minutes and
went down to the beach. Although it was still dark, the stars had paled
a little. The sea ground the shingle on the beach. There was such a
fresh breeze that it made one shiver slightly in spite of one's heavy
Presently two boats were pushed down the beach, by the sailors, with a
sound as of tearing cloth, and were floated on the nearest waves. The
brown sail was hoisted, swelled a little, fluttered, hesitated and
swelling out again as round as a paunch, carried the boats towards the
large arched entrance that could be faintly distinguished in the
The sky became clearer, the shadows seemed to melt away. The coast still
seemed veiled, the great white coast, perpendicular as a wall.
They passed through the Manne-Porte, an enormous arch beneath which a
ship could sail; they doubled the promontory of La Courtine, passed the
little valley of Antifer and the cape of the same name; and suddenly
caught sight of a beach on which some hundreds of seagulls were perched.
That was the Penguins' Rock. It was just a little protuberance of the
cliff, and on the narrow ledges of rock the birds' heads might be seen
watching the boats.
They remained there, motionless, not venturing to fly off as yet. Some
of them perched on the edges, seated upright, looked almost like bottles,
for their little legs are so short that when they walk they glide along
as if they were on rollers. When they start to fly they cannot make a
spring and let themselves fall like stones almost down to the very men
who are watching them.
They know their limitation and the danger to which it subjects them, and
cannot make up their minds to fly away.
But the boatmen begin to shout, beating the sides of the boat with the
wooden boat pins, and the birds, in affright, fly one by one into space
until they reach the level of the waves. Then, moving their wings
rapidly, they scud, scud along until they reach the open sea; if a shower
of lead does not knock them into the water.
For an hour the firing is kept up, obliging them to give up, one after
another. Sometimes the mother birds will not leave their nests, and are
riddled with shot, causing drops of blood to spurt out on the white
cliff, and the animal dies without having deserted her eggs.
The first day M. d'Arnelles fired at the birds with his habitual zeal;
but when the party returned toward ten o'clock, beneath a brilliant sun,
which cast great triangles of light on the white cliffs along the coast
he appeared a little worried, and absentminded, contrary to his
As soon as they got on shore a kind of servant dressed in black came up
to him and said something in a low tone. He seemed to reflect, hesitate,
and then replied:
The following day they set out again. This time M, d'Arnelles frequently
missed his aim, although the birds were close by. His friends teased
him, asked him if he were in love, if some secret sorrow was troubling
his mind and heart. At length he confessed.
"Yes, indeed, I have to leave soon, and that annoys me."
"What, you must leave? And why?"
"Oh, I have some business that calls me back. I cannot stay any longer."
They then talked of other matters.
As soon as breakfast was over the valet in black appeared. M. d'Arnelles
ordered his carriage, arid the man was leaving the room when the three
sportsmen interfered, insisting, begging, and praying their friend to
stay. One of them at last said:
"Come now, this cannot be a matter of such importance, for you have
already waited two days."
M. d'Arnelles, altogether perplexed, began to think, evidently baffled,
divided between pleasure and duty, unhappy and disturbed.
After reflecting for some time he stammered:
"The fact is--the fact is--I am not alone here. I have my son-in-law."
There were exclamations and shouts of "Your son-in-law! Where is he?"
He suddenly appeared confused and his face grew red.
"What! do you not know? Why--why--he is in the coach house. He is
They were all silent in amazement.
M. d'Arnelles continued, more and more disturbed:
"I had the misfortune to lose him; and as I was taking the body to my
house, in Briseville, I came round this way so as not to miss our
appointment. But you can see that I cannot wait any longer."
Then one of the sportsmen, bolder than the rest said:
"Well, but--since he is dead--it seems to me that he can wait a day
The others chimed in:
"That cannot be denied."
M. d'Arnelles appeared to be relieved of a great weight, but a little
uneasy, nevertheless, he asked:
"But, frankly--do you think--"
The three others, as one man, replied:
"Parbleu! my dear boy, two days more or less can make no difference in
his present condition."
And, perfectly calmly, the father-in-law turned to the undertaker's
assistant, and said:
"Well, then, my friend, it will be the day after tomorrow."
I was to see my old friend, Simon Radevin, of whom I had lost sight for
fifteen years. At one time he was my most intimate friend, the friend
who knows one's thoughts, with whom one passes long, quiet, happy
evenings, to whom one tells one's secret love affairs, and who seems to
draw out those rare, ingenious, delicate thoughts born of that sympathy
that gives a sense of repose.
For years we had scarcely been separated; we had lived, travelled,
thought and dreamed together; had liked the same things, had admired the
same books, understood the same authors, trembled with the same
sensations, and very often laughed at the same individuals, whom we
understood completely by merely exchanging a glance.
Then he married. He married, quite suddenly, a little girl from the
provinces, who had come to Paris in search of a husband. How in the
world could that little thin, insipidly fair girl, with her weak hands,
her light, vacant eyes, and her clear, silly voice, who was exactly like
a hundred thousand marriageable dolls, have picked up that intelligent,
clever young fellow? Can any one understand these things? No doubt he
had hoped for happiness, simple, quiet and long-enduring happiness, in
the arms of a good, tender and faithful woman; he had seen all that in
the transparent looks of that schoolgirl with light hair.
He had not dreamed of the fact that an active, living and vibrating man
grows weary of everything as soon as he understands the stupid reality,
unless, indeed, he becomes so brutalized that he understands nothing
What would he be like when I met him again? Still lively, witty, light-
hearted and enthusiastic, or in a state of mental torpor induced by
provincial life? A man may change greatly in the course of fifteen
The train stopped at a small station, and as I got out of the carriage, a
stout, a very stout man with red cheeks and a big stomach rushed up to me
with open arms, exclaiming: "George!" I embraced him, but I had not
recognized him, and then I said, in astonishment: "By Jove! You have not
grown thin!" And he replied with a laugh:
"What did you expect? Good living, a good table and good nights! Eating
and sleeping, that is my existence!"
I looked at him closely, trying to discover in that broad face the
features I held so dear. His eyes alone had not changed, but I no longer
saw the same expression in them, and I said to myself: "If the expression
be the reflection of the mind, the thoughts in that head are not what
they used to be formerly; those thoughts which I knew so well."
Yet his eyes were bright, full of happiness and friendship, but they had
not that clear, intelligent expression which shows as much as words the
brightness of the intellect. Suddenly he said:
"Here are my two eldest children." A girl of fourteen, who was almost a
woman, and a boy of thirteen, in the dress of a boy from a Lycee, came
forward in a hesitating and awkward manner, and I said in a low voice:
"Are they yours?" "Of course they are," he replied, laughing. "How many
have you?" "Five! There are three more at home."
He said this in a proud, self-satisfied, almost triumphant manner, and I
felt profound pity, mingled with a feeling of vague contempt, for this
vainglorious and simple reproducer of his species.
I got into a carriage which he drove himself, and we set off through the
town, a dull, sleepy, gloomy town where nothing was moving in the streets
except a few dogs and two or three maidservants. Here and there a
shopkeeper, standing at his door, took off his hat, and Simon returned
his salute and told me the man's name; no doubt to show me that he knew
all the inhabitants personally, and the thought struck me that he was
thinking of becoming a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies, that dream
of all those who bury themselves in the provinces.
We were soon out of the town, and the carriage turned into a garden that
was an imitation of a park, and stopped in front of a turreted house,
which tried to look like a chateau.
"That is my den," said Simon, so that I might compliment him on it. "It
is charming," I replied.
A lady appeared on the steps, dressed for company, and with company
phrases all ready prepared. She was no longer the light-haired, insipid
girl I had seen in church fifteen years previously, but a stout lady in
curls and flounces, one of those ladies of uncertain age, without
intellect, without any of those things that go to make a woman. In
short, she was a mother, a stout, commonplace mother, a human breeding
machine which procreates without any other preoccupation but her children
and her cook-book.
She welcomed me, and I went into the hall, where three children, ranged
according to their height, seemed set out for review, like firemen before
a mayor, and I said: "Ah! ah! so there are the others?" Simon, radiant
with pleasure, introduced them: "Jean, Sophie and Gontran."
The door of the drawing-room was open. I went in, and in the depths of
an easy-chair, I saw something trembling, a man, an old, paralyzed man.
Madame Radevin came forward and said: "This is my grandfather, monsieur;
he is eighty-seven." And then she shouted into the shaking old man's
ears: "This is a friend of Simon's, papa." The old gentleman tried to
say "good-day" to me, and he muttered: "Oua, oua, oua," and waved his
hand, and I took a seat saying: "You are very kind, monsieur."
Simon had just come in, and he said with a laugh: "So! You have made
grandpapa's acquaintance. He is a treasure, that old man; he is the
delight of the children. But he is so greedy that he almost kills
himself at every meal; you have no idea what he would eat if he were
allowed to do as he pleased. But you will see, you will see. He looks
at all the sweets as if they were so many girls. You never saw anything
so funny; you will see presently."
I was then shown to my room, to change my dress for dinner, and hearing a
great clatter behind me on the stairs, I turned round and saw that all
the children were following me behind their father; to do me honor, no
My windows looked out across a dreary, interminable plain, an ocean of
grass, of wheat and of oats, without a clump of trees or any rising
ground, a striking and melancholy picture of the life which they must be
leading in that house.
A bell rang; it was for dinner, and I went downstairs. Madame Radevin
took my arm in a ceremonious manner, and we passed into the dining-room.
A footman wheeled in the old man in his armchair. He gave a greedy and
curious look at the dessert, as he turned his shaking head with
difficulty from one dish to the other.
Simon rubbed his hands: "You will be amused," he said; and all the
children understanding that I was going to be indulged with the sight of
their greedy grandfather, began to laugh, while their mother merely
smiled and shrugged her shoulders, and Simon, making a speaking trumpet
of his hands, shouted at the old man: "This evening there is sweet
creamed rice!" The wrinkled face of the grandfather brightened, and he
trembled more violently, from head to foot, showing that he had
understood and was very pleased. The dinner began.
"Just look!" Simon whispered. The old man did not like the soup, and
refused to eat it; but he was obliged to do it for the good of his
health, and the footman forced the spoon into his mouth, while the old
man blew so energetically, so as not to swallow the soup, that it was
scattered like a spray all over the table and over his neighbors. The
children writhed with laughter at the spectacle, while their father, who
was also amused, said: "Is not the old man comical?"
During the whole meal they were taken up solely with him. He devoured
the dishes on the table with his eyes, and tried to seize them and pull
them over to him with his trembling hands. They put them almost within
his reach, to see his useless efforts, his trembling clutches at them,
the piteous appeal of his whole nature, of his eyes, of his mouth and of
his nose as he smelt them, and he slobbered on his table napkin with
eagerness, while uttering inarticulate grunts. And the whole family was
highly amused at this horrible and grotesque scene.
Then they put a tiny morsel on his plate, and he ate with feverish
gluttony, in order to get something more as soon as possible, and when
the sweetened rice was brought in, he nearly had a fit, and groaned with
greediness, and Gontran called out to him:
"You have eaten too much already; you can have no more." And they
pretended not to give him any. Then he began to cry; he cried and
trembled more violently than ever, while all the children laughed.
At last, however, they gave him his helping, a very small piece; and as
he ate the first mouthful, he made a comical noise in his throat, and a
movement with his neck as ducks do when they swallow too large a morsel,
and when he had swallowed it, he began to stamp his feet, so as to get
I was seized with pity for this saddening and ridiculous Tantalus, and
interposed on his behalf:
"Come, give him a little more rice!" But Simon replied: "Oh! no, my
dear fellow, if he were to eat too much, it would harm him, at his age."
I held my tongue, and thought over those words. Oh, ethics! Oh, logic!
Oh, wisdom! At his age! So they deprived him of his only remaining
pleasure out of regard for his health! His health! What would he do
with it, inert and trembling wreck that he was? They were taking care of
his life, so they said. His life? How many days? Ten, twenty, fifty,
or a hundred? Why? For his own sake? Or to preserve for some time
longer the spectacle of his impotent greediness in the family.
There was nothing left for him to do in this life, nothing whatever.
He had one single wish left, one sole pleasure; why not grant him that
last solace until he died?
After we had played cards for a long time, I went up to my room and to
bed; I was low-spirited and sad, sad, sad! and I sat at my window. Not a
sound could be heard outside but the beautiful warbling of a bird in a
tree, somewhere in the distance. No doubt the bird was singing in a low
voice during the night, to lull his mate, who was asleep on her eggs.
And I thought of my poor friend's five children, and pictured him to
myself, snoring by the side of his ugly wife.
To Georges Legrand.
Hardly a day goes by without our reading a news item like the following
in some newspaper:
"On Wednesday night the people living in No. 40 Rue de-----, were
awakened by two successive shots. The explosions seemed to come from the
apartment occupied by M. X----. The door was broken in and the man was
found bathed in his blood, still holding in one hand the revolver with
which he had taken his life.
"M. X---- was fifty-seven years of age, enjoying a comfortable income,
and had everything necessary to make him happy. No cause can be found
for his action."
What terrible grief, what unknown suffering, hidden despair, secret
wounds drive these presumably happy persons to suicide? We search, we
imagine tragedies of love, we suspect financial troubles, and, as we
never find anything definite, we apply to these deaths the word
A letter found on the desk of one of these "suicides without cause," and
written during his last night, beside his loaded revolver, has come into
our hands. We deem it rather interesting. It reveals none of those
great catastrophes which we always expect to find behind these acts of
despair; but it shows us the slow succession of the little vexations of
life, the disintegration of a lonely existence, whose dreams have
disappeared; it gives the reason for these tragic ends, which only
nervous and highstrung people can understand.
Here it is:
"It is midnight. When I have finished this letter I shall kill myself.
Why? I shall attempt to give the reasons, not for those who may read
these lines, but for myself, to kindle my waning courage, to impress upon
myself the fatal necessity of this act which can, at best, be only
"I was brought up by simple-minded parents who were unquestioning
believers. And I believed as they did.
"My dream lasted a long time. The last veil has just been torn from my
"During the last few years a strange change has been taking place within
me. All the events of Life, which formerly had to me the glow of a
beautiful sunset, are now fading away. The true meaning of things has
appeared to me in its brutal reality; and the true reason for love has
bred in me disgust even for this poetic sentiment: 'We are the eternal
toys of foolish and charming illusions, which are always being renewed.'
"On growing older, I had become partly reconciled to the awful mystery of
life, to the uselessness of effort; when the emptiness of everything
appeared to me in a new light, this evening, after dinner.
"Formerly, I was happy! Everything pleased me: the passing women, the
appearance of the streets, the place where I lived; and I even took an
interest in the cut of my clothes. But the repetition of the same sights
has had the result of filling my heart with weariness and disgust, just
as one would feel were one to go every night to the same theatre.
"For the last thirty years I have been rising at the same hour; and, at
the same restaurant, for thirty years, I have been eating at the same
hours the same dishes brought me by different waiters.
"I have tried travel. The loneliness which one feels in strange places
terrified me. I felt so alone, so small on the earth that I quickly
started on my homeward journey.
"But here the unchanging expression of my furniture, which has stood for
thirty years in the same place, the smell of my apartments (for, with
time, each dwelling takes on a particular odor) each night, these and
other things disgust me and make me sick of living thus.
"Everything repeats itself endlessly. The way in which I put my key in
the lock, the place where I always find my matches, the first object
which meets my eye when I enter the room, make me feel like jumping out
of the window and putting an end to those monotonous events from which we
can never escape.
"Each day, when I shave, I feel an inordinate desire to cut my throat;
and my face, which I see in the little mirror, always the same, with soap
on my cheeks, has several times made me weak from sadness.
"Now I even hate to be with people whom I used to meet with pleasure; I
know them so well, I can tell just what they are going to say and what I
am going to answer. Each brain is like a circus, where the same horse
keeps circling around eternally. We must circle round always, around the
same ideas, the same joys, the same pleasures, the same habits, the same
beliefs, the same sensations of disgust.
"The fog was terrible this evening. It enfolded the boulevard, where the
street lights were dimmed and looked like smoking candles. A heavier
weight than usual oppressed me. Perhaps my digestion was bad.
"For good digestion is everything in life. It gives the inspiration to
the artist, amorous desires to young people, clear ideas to thinkers, the
joy of life to everybody, and it also allows one to eat heartily (which
is one of the greatest pleasures). A sick stomach induces scepticism
unbelief, nightmares and the desire for death. I have often noticed this
fact. Perhaps I would not kill myself, if my digestion had been good
"When I sat down in the arm-chair where I have been sitting every day for
thirty years, I glanced around me, and just then I was seized by such a
terrible distress that I thought I must go mad.
"I tried to think of what I could do to run away from myself. Every
occupation struck me as being worse even than inaction. Then I bethought
me of putting my papers in order.
"For a long time I have been thinking of clearing out my drawers; for,
for the last thirty years, I have been throwing my letters and bills
pell-mell into the same desk, and this confusion has often caused me
considerable trouble. But I feel such moral and physical laziness at the
sole idea of putting anything in order that I have never had the courage
to begin this tedious business.
"I therefore opened my desk, intending to choose among my old papers and
destroy the majority of them.
"At first I was bewildered by this array of documents, yellowed by age,
then I chose one.
"Oh! if you cherish life, never disturb the burial place of old letters!
"And if, perchance, you should, take the contents by the handful, close
your eyes that you may not read a word, so that you may not recognize
some forgotten handwriting which may plunge you suddenly into a sea of
memories; carry these papers to the fire; and when they are in ashes,
crush them to an invisible powder, or otherwise you are lost--just as I
have been lost for an hour.
"The first letters which I read did not interest me greatly. They were
recent, and came from living men whom I still meet quite often, and whose
presence does not move me to any great extent. But all at once one
envelope made me start. My name was traced on it in a large, bold
handwriting; and suddenly tears came to my eyes. That letter was from my
dearest friend, the companion of my youth, the confidant of my hopes; and
he appeared before me so clearly, with his pleasant smile and his hand
outstretched, that a cold shiver ran down my back. Yes, yes, the dead
come back, for I saw him! Our memory is a more perfect world than the
universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.
"With trembling hand and dimmed eyes I reread everything that he told me,
and in my poor sobbing heart I felt a wound so painful that I began to
groan as a man whose bones are slowly being crushed.
"Then I travelled over my whole life, just as one travels along a river.
I recognized people, so long forgotten that I no longer knew their names.
Their faces alone lived in me. In my mother's letters I saw again the
old servants, the shape of our house and the little insignificant odds
and ends which cling to our minds.
"Yes, I suddenly saw again all my mother's old gowns, the different
styles which she adopted and the several ways in which she dressed her
hair. She haunted me especially in a silk dress, trimmed with old lace;
and I remembered something she said one day when she was wearing this
dress. She said: 'Robert, my child, if you do not stand up straight you
will be round-shouldered all your life.'
"Then, opening another drawer, I found myself face to face with memories
of tender passions: a dancing-pump, a torn handkerchief, even a garter,
locks of hair and dried flowers. Then the sweet romances of my life,
whose living heroines are now white-haired, plunged me into the deep
melancholy of things. Oh, the young brows where blond locks curl, the
caress of the hands, the glance which speaks, the hearts which beat, that
smile which promises the lips, those lips which promise the embrace!
And the first kiss-that endless kiss which makes you close your eyes,
which drowns all thought in the immeasurable joy of approaching
"Taking these old pledges of former love in both my hands, I covered them
with furious caresses, and in my soul, torn by these memories, I saw them
each again at the hour of surrender; and I suffered a torture more cruel
than all the tortures invented in all the fables about hell.
"One last letter remained. It was written by me and dictated fifty years
ago by my writing teacher. Here it is:
"'MY DEAR LITTLE MAMMA:
"'I am seven years old to-day. It is the age of reason. I take
advantage of it to thank you for having brought me into this world.
"'Your little son, who loves you
"It is all over. I had gone back to the beginning, and suddenly I turned
my glance on what remained to me of life. I saw hideous and lonely old
age, and approaching infirmities, and everything over and gone. And
nobody near me!
"My revolver is here, on the table. I am loading it . . . . Never
reread your old letters!"
And that is how many men come to kill themselves; and we search in vain
to discover some great sorrow in their lives.
The old doctor sat by the fireside, talking to his fair patient who was
lying on the lounge. There was nothing much the matter with her, except
that she had one of those little feminine ailments from which pretty
women frequently suffer--slight anaemia, a nervous attack, etc.
"No, doctor," she said; "I shall never be able to understand a woman
deceiving her husband. Even allowing that she does not love him, that
she pays no heed to her vows and promises, how can she give herself to
another man? How can she conceal the intrigue from other people's eyes?
How can it be possible to love amid lies and treason?"
The doctor smiled, and replied: "It is perfectly easy, and I can assure
you that a woman does not think of all those little subtle details when
she has made up her mind to go astray.
"As for dissimulation, all women have plenty of it on hand for such
occasions, and the simplest of them are wonderful, and extricate
themselves from the greatest dilemmas in a remarkable manner."
The young woman, however, seemed incredulous.
"No, doctor," she said; "one never thinks until after it has happened of
what one ought to have done in a critical situation, and women are
certainly more liable than men to lose their head on such occasions:"
The doctor raised his hands. "After it has happened, you say! Now I
will tell you something that happened to one of my female patients, whom
I always considered an immaculate woman.
"It happened in a provincial town, and one night when I was asleep, in
that deep first sleep from which it is so difficult to rouse us, it
seemed to me, in my dreams, as if the bells in the town were sounding a
fire alarm, and I woke up with a start. It was my own bell, which was
ringing wildly, and as my footman did not seem to be answering the door,
I, in turn, pulled the bell at the head of my bed, and soon I heard a
banging, and steps in the silent house, and Jean came into my room, and
handed me a letter which said: 'Madame Lelievre begs Dr. Simeon to come
to her immediately.'
"I thought for a few moments, and then I said to myself: 'A nervous
attack, vapors; nonsense, I am too tired.' And so I replied: 'As Dr.
Simeon is not at all well, he must beg Madame Lelievre to be kind enough
to call in his colleague, Monsieur Bonnet.' I put the note into an
envelope and went to sleep again, but about half an hour later the street
bell rang again, and Jean came to me and said: 'There is somebody
downstairs; I do not quite know whether it is a man or a woman, as the
individual is so wrapped up, but they wish to speak to you immediately.
They say it is a matter of life and death for two people.' Whereupon I
sat up in bed and told him to show the person in.
"A kind of black phantom appeared and raised her veil as soon as Jean had
left the room. It was Madame Berthe Lelievre, quite a young woman, who
had been married for three years to a large a merchant in the town, who
was said to have married the prettiest girl in the neighborhood.
"She was terribly pale, her face was contracted as the faces of insane
people are, occasionally, and her hands trembled violently. Twice she
tried to speak without being able to utter a sound, but at last she
stammered out: 'Come--quick--quick, doctor. Come--my--friend has just
died in my bedroom.' She stopped, half suffocated with emotion, and then
went on: 'My husband will be coming home from the club very soon.'
"I jumped out of bed without even considering that I was only in my
nightshirt, and dressed myself in a few moments, and then I said: 'Did
you come a short time ago?' 'No,' she said, standing like a statue
petrified with horror. 'It was my servant--she knows.' And then, after
a short silence, she went on: 'I was there--by his side.' And she
uttered a sort of cry of horror, and after a fit of choking, which made
her gasp, she wept violently, and shook with spasmodic sobs for a minute:
or two. Then her tears suddenly ceased, as if by an internal fire, and
with an air of tragic calmness, she said: 'Let us make haste.'
"I was ready, but exclaimed: 'I quite forgot to order my carriage.'
'I have one,' she said; 'it is his, which was waiting for him!' She
wrapped herself up, so as to completely conceal her face, and we started.
"When she was by my side in the carriage she suddenly seized my hand, and
crushing it in her delicate fingers, she said, with a shaking voice, that
proceeded from a distracted heart: 'Oh! if you only knew, if you only
knew what I am suffering! I loved him, I have loved him distractedly,
like a madwoman, for the last six months.' 'Is anyone up in your house?'
I asked. 'No, nobody except those, who knows everything.'
"We stopped at the door, and evidently everybody was asleep. We went in
without making any noise, by means of her latch-key, and walked upstairs
on tiptoe. The frightened servant was sitting on the top of the stairs
with a lighted candle by her side, as she was afraid to remain with the
dead man, and I went into the room, which was in great disorder. Wet
towels, with which they had bathed the young man's temples, were lying on
the floor, by the side of a washbasin and a glass, while a strong smell
of vinegar pervaded the room.
"The dead man's body was lying at full length in the middle of the room,
and I went up to it, looked at it, and touched it. I opened the eyes and
felt the hands, and then, turning to the two women, who were shaking as
if they were freezing, I said to them: 'Help me to lift him on to the
bed.' When we had laid him gently on it, I listened to his heart and put
a looking-glass to his lips, and then said: 'It is all over.' It was a
"I looked at the man, and said: 'You ought to arrange his hair a little.'
The girl went and brought her mistress' comb and brush, but as she was
trembling, and pulling out his long, matted hair in doing it, Madame
Lelievre took the comb out of her hand, and arranged his hair as if she
were caressing him. She parted it, brushed his beard, rolled his
mustaches gently round her fingers, then, suddenly, letting go of his
hair, she took the dead man's inert head in her hands and looked for a
long time in despair at the dead face, which no longer could smile at
her, and then, throwing herself on him, she clasped him in her arms and
kissed him ardently. Her kisses fell like blows on his closed mouth and
eyes, his forehead and temples; and then, putting her lips to his ear, as
if he could still hear her, and as if she were about to whisper something
to him, she said several times, in a heartrending voice:
"'Good-by, my darling!'
"Just then the clock struck twelve, and I started up. 'Twelve o'clock!'
I exclaimed. 'That is the time when the club closes. Come, madame, we
have not a moment to lose!' She started up, and I said:
"'We must carry him into the drawing-room.' And when we had done this,
I placed him on a sofa, and lit the chandeliers, and just then the front
door was opened and shut noisily. 'Rose, bring me the basin and the
towels, and make the room look tidy. Make haste, for Heaven's sake!
Monsieur Lelievre is coming in.'
"I heard his steps on the stairs, and then his hands feeling along the
walls. 'Come here, my dear fellow,' I said; 'we have had an accident.'
"And the astonished husband appeared in the door with a cigar in his
mouth, and said: 'What is the matter? What is the meaning of this?'
'My dear friend,' I said, going up to him, 'you find us in great
embarrassment. I had remained late, chatting with your wife and our
friend, who had brought me in his carriage, when he suddenly fainted, and
in spite of all we have done, he has remained unconscious for two hours.
I did not like to call in strangers, and if you will now help me
downstairs with him, I shall be able to attend to him better at his own
"The husband, who was surprised, but quite unsuspicious, took off his
hat, and then he took his rival, who would be quite inoffensive for the
future, under the arms. I got between his two legs, as if I had been a
horse between the shafts, and we went downstairs, while his wife held a
light for us. When we got outside I stood the body up, so as to deceive
the coachman, and said: 'Come, my friend; it is nothing; you feel better
already I expect. Pluck up your courage, and make an effort. It will
soon be over.' But as I felt that he was slipping out of my hands, I
gave him a slap on the shoulder, which sent him forward and made him fall
into the carriage, and then I got in after him. Monsieur Lelievre, who
was rather alarmed, said to me: 'Do you think it is anything serious?'
To which I replied: 'No,' with a smile, as I looked at his wife, who had
put her arm into that of her husband, and was trying to see into the
"I shook hands with them and told my coachman to start, and during the
whole drive the dead man kept falling against me. When we got to his
house I said that he had become unconscious on the way home, and helped
to carry him upstairs, where I certified that he was dead, and acted
another comedy to his distracted family, and at last I got back to bed,
not without swearing at lovers."
The doctor ceased, though he was still smiling, and the young woman, who
was in a very nervous state, said: "Why have you told me that terrible
He gave her a gallant bow, and replied:
"So that I may offer you my services if they should be needed."
They had just dined together, five old friends, a writer, a doctor and
three rich bachelors without any profession.
They had talked about everything, and a feeling of lassitude came over
them, that feeling which precedes and leads to the departure of guests
after festive gatherings. One of those present, who had for the last
five minutes been gazing silently at the surging boulevard dotted with
gas-lamps, with its rattling vehicles, said suddenly:
"When you've nothing to do from morning till night, the days are long."
"And the nights too," assented the guest who sat next to him. "I sleep
very little; pleasures fatigue me; conversation is monotonous. Never do
I come across a new idea, and I feel, before talking to any one, a
violent longing to say nothing and to listen to nothing. I don't know
what to do with my evenings."
The third idler remarked:
"I would pay a great deal for anything that would help me to pass just
two pleasant hours every day."
The writer, who had just thrown his overcoat across his arm, turned round
to them, and said:
"The man who could discover a new vice and introduce it among his fellow
creatures, even if it were to shorten their lives, would render a greater
service to humanity than the man who found the means of securing to them
eternal salvation and eternal youth."
The doctor burst out laughing, and, while he chewed his cigar, he said:
"Yes, but it is not so easy to discover it. Men have however crudely,
been seeking for--and working for the object you refer to since the
beginning of the world. The men who came first reached perfection at
once in this way. We are hardly equal to them."
One of the three idlers murmured:
"What a pity!"
Then, after a minute's pause, he added:
"If we could only sleep, sleep well, without feeling hot or cold, sleep
with that perfect unconsciousness we experience on nights when we are
thoroughly fatigued, sleep without dreams."
"Why without dreams?" asked the guest sitting next to him.
The other replied:
"Because dreams are not always pleasant; they are always fantastic,
improbable, disconnected; and because when we are asleep we cannot have
the sort of dreams we like. We ought to dream waking."
"And what's to prevent you?" asked the writer.
The doctor flung away the end of his cigar.
"My dear fellow, in order to dream when you are awake, you need great
power and great exercise of will, and when you try to do it, great
weariness is the result. Now, real dreaming, that journey of our
thoughts through delightful visions, is assuredly the sweetest experience
in the world; but it must come naturally, it must not be provoked in a
painful, manner, and must be accompanied by absolute bodily comfort.
This power of dreaming I can give you, provided you promise that you will
not abuse it."
The writer shrugged his shoulders:
"Ah! yes, I know--hasheesh, opium, green tea--artificial paradises.
I have read Baudelaire, and I even tasted the famous drug, which made me
But the doctor, without stirring from his seat, said:
"No; ether, nothing but ether; and I would suggest that you literary men
should use it sometimes."
The three rich bachelors drew closer to the doctor.
One of them said:
"Explain to us the effects of it."
And the doctor replied:
"Let us put aside big words, shall we not? I am not talking of medicine
or morality; I am talking of pleasure. You give yourselves up every day
to excesses which consume your lives. I want to indicate to you a new
sensation, possible only to intelligent men--let us say even very
intelligent men--dangerous, like everything else that overexcites our
organs, but exquisite. I might add that you would require a certain
preparation, that is to say, practice, to feel in all their completeness
the singular effects of ether.
"They are different from the effects of hasheesh, of opium, or morphia,
and they cease as soon as the absorption of the drug is interrupted,
while the other generators of day dreams continue their action for hours.
"I am now going to try to analyze these feelings as clearly as possible.
But the thing is not easy, so facile, so delicate, so almost
imperceptible, are these sensations.
"It was when I was attacked by violent neuralgia that I made use of this
remedy, which since then I have, perhaps, slightly abused.
"I had acute pains in my head and neck, and an intolerable heat of the
skin, a feverish restlessness. I took up a large bottle of ether, and,
lying down, I began to inhale it slowly.
"At the end of some minutes I thought I heard a vague murmur, which ere
long became a sort of humming, and it seemed to me that all the interior
of my body had become light, light as air, that it was dissolving into
"Then came a sort of torpor, a sleepy sensation of comfort, in spite of
the pains which still continued, but which had ceased to make themselves
felt. It was one of those sensations which we are willing to endure and
not any of those frightful wrenches against which our tortured body
"Soon the strange and delightful sense of emptiness which I felt in my
chest extended to my limbs, which, in their turn, became light, as light
as if the flesh and the bones had been melted and the skin only were
left, the skin necessary to enable me to realize the sweetness of living,
of bathing in this sensation of well-being. Then I perceived that I was
no longer suffering. The pain had gone, melted away, evaporated. And I
heard voices, four voices, two dialogues, without understanding what was
said. At one time there were only indistinct sounds, at another time a
word reached my ear. But I recognized that this was only the humming I
had heard before, but emphasized. I was not asleep; I was not awake; I
comprehended, I felt, I reasoned with the utmost clearness and depth,
with extraordinary energy and intellectual pleasure, with a singular
intoxication arising from this separation of my mental faculties.
"It was not like the dreams caused by hasheesh or the somewhat sickly
visions that come from opium; it was an amazing acuteness of reasoning, a
new way of seeing, judging and appreciating the things of life, and with
the certainty, the absolute consciousness that this was the true way.
"And the old image of the Scriptures suddenly came back to my mind.
It seemed to me that I had tasted of the Tree of Knowledge, that all the
mysteries were unveiled, so much did I find myself under the sway of a
new, strange and irrefutable logic. And arguments, reasonings, proofs
rose up in a heap before my brain only to be immediately displaced by
some stronger proof, reasoning, argument. My head had, in fact, become a
battleground of ideas. I was a superior being, armed with invincible
intelligence, and I experienced a huge delight at the manifestation of my
"It lasted a long, long time. I still kept inhaling the ether from my
flagon. Suddenly I perceived that it was empty."
The four men exclaimed at the same time:
"Doctor, a prescription at once for a liter of ether!"
But the doctor, putting on his hat, replied:
"As to that, certainly not; go and let some one else poison you!"
And he left them.
Ladies and gentlemen, what is your opinion on the subject?
Noon had just struck. The school door opened and the youngsters darted
out, jostling each other in their haste to get out quickly. But instead
of promptly dispersing and going home to dinner as usual, they stopped a
few paces off, broke up into knots, and began whispering.
The fact was that, that morning, Simon, the son of La Blanchotte, had,
for the first time, attended school.
They had all of them in their families heard talk of La Blanchotte; and,
although in public she was welcome enough, the mothers among themselves
treated her with a somewhat disdainful compassion, which the children had
imitated without in the least knowing why.
As for Simon himself, they did not know him, for he never went out, and
did not run about with them in the streets of the village, or along the
banks of the river. And they did not care for him; so it was with a
certain delight, mingled with considerable astonishment, that they met
and repeated to each other what had been said by a lad of fourteen or
fifteen who appeared to know all about it, so sagaciously did he wink.
"You know--Simon--well, he has no papa."
Just then La Blanchotte's son appeared in the doorway of the school.
He was seven or eight years old, rather pale, very neat, with a timid and
almost awkward manner.
He was starting home to his mother's house when the groups of his
schoolmates, whispering and watching him with the mischievous and
heartless eyes of children bent upon playing a nasty trick, gradually
closed in around him and ended by surrounding him altogether. There he
stood in their midst, surprised and embarrassed, not understanding what
they were going to do with him. But the lad who had brought the news,
puffed up with the success he had met with already, demanded:
"What is your name, you?"
He answered: "Simon."
"Simon what?" retorted the other.
The child, altogether bewildered, repeated: "Simon."
The lad shouted at him: "One is named Simon something--that is not a
The child, on the brink of tears, replied for the third time:
"My name is Simon."
The urchins began to laugh. The triumphant tormentor cried: "You can see
plainly that he has no papa."
A deep silence ensued. The children were dumfounded by this
extraordinary, impossible, monstrous thing--a boy who had not a papa;
they looked upon him as a phenomenon, an unnatural being, and they felt
that hitherto inexplicable contempt of their mothers for La Blanchotte
growing upon them. As for Simon, he had leaned against a tree to avoid
falling, and he remained as if prostrated by an irreparable disaster.
He sought to explain, but could think of nothing-to say to refute this
horrible charge that he had no papa. At last he shouted at them quite
recklessly: "Yes, I have one."
"Where is he?" demanded the boy.
Simon was silent, he did not know. The children roared, tremendously
excited; and those country boys, little more than animals, experienced
that cruel craving which prompts the fowls of a farmyard to destroy one
of their number as soon as it is wounded. Simon suddenly espied a little
neighbor, the son of a widow, whom he had seen, as he himself was to be
seen, always alone with his mother.
"And no more have you," he said; "no more have you a papa."
"Yes," replied the other, "I have one."
"Where is he?" rejoined Simon.
"He is dead," declared the brat, with superb dignity; "he is in the
cemetery, is my papa."
A murmur of approval rose among the little wretches as if this fact of
possessing a papa dead in a cemetery had caused their comrade to grow big
enough to crush the other one who had no papa at all. And these boys,
whose fathers were for the most part bad men, drunkards, thieves, and who
beat their wives, jostled each other to press closer and closer,
as though they, the legitimate ones, would smother by their pressure one
who was illegitimate.
The boy who chanced to be next Simon suddenly put his tongue out at him
with a mocking air and shouted at him:
"No papa! No papa!"
Simon seized him by the hair with both hands and set to work to disable
his legs with kicks, while he bit his cheek ferociously. A tremendous
struggle ensued between the two combatants, and Simon found himself
beaten, torn, bruised, rolled on the ground in the midst of the ring of
applauding schoolboys. As he arose, mechanically brushing with his hand
his little blouse all covered with dust, some one shouted at him:
"Go and tell your papa."
Then he felt a great sinking at his heart. They were stronger than he
was, they had beaten him, and he had no answer to give them, for he knew
well that it was true that he had no papa. Full of pride, he attempted
for some moments to struggle against the tears which were choking him.
He had a feeling of suffocation, and then without any sound he commenced
to weep, with great shaking sobs. A ferocious joy broke out among his
enemies, and, with one accord, just like savages in their fearful
festivals, they took each other by the hand and danced round him in a
circle, repeating as a refrain:
"No papa! No papa!"
But suddenly Simon ceased sobbing. He became ferocious. There were
stones under his feet; he picked them up and with all his strength hurled
them at his tormentors. Two or three were struck and rushed off yelling,
and so formidable did he appear that the rest became panic-stricken.
Cowards, as the mob always is in presence of an exasperated man, they
broke up and fled. Left alone, the little fellow without a father set
off running toward the fields, for a recollection had been awakened in
him which determined his soul to a great resolve. He made up his mind to
drown himself in the river.
He remembered, in fact, that eight days before, a poor devil who begged
for his livelihood had thrown himself into the water because he had no
more money. Simon had been there when they fished him out again; and the
wretched man, who usually seemed to him so miserable, and ugly, had then
struck him as being so peaceful with his pale cheeks, his long drenched
beard, and his open eyes full of calm. The bystanders had said:
"He is dead."
And some one had said:
"He is quite happy now."
And Simon wished to drown himself also, because he had no father, just
like the wretched being who had no money.
He reached the water and watched it flowing. Some fish were sporting
briskly in the clear stream and occasionally made a little bound and
caught the flies flying on the surface. He stopped crying in order to
watch them, for their maneuvers interested him greatly. But, at
intervals, as in a tempest intervals of calm alternate suddenly with
tremendous gusts of wind, which snap off the trees and then lose
themselves in the horizon, this thought would return to him with intense
"I am going to drown myself because I have no papa."
It was very warm, fine weather. The pleasant sunshine warmed the grass.
The water shone like a mirror. And Simon enjoyed some minutes of
happiness, of that languor which follows weeping, and felt inclined to
fall asleep there upon the grass in the warm sunshine.
A little green frog leaped from under his feet. He endeavored to catch
it. It escaped him. He followed it and lost it three times in
succession. At last he caught it by one of its hind legs and began to
laugh as he saw the efforts the creature made to escape. It gathered
itself up on its hind legs and then with a violent spring suddenly
stretched them out as stiff as two bars; while it beat the air with its
front legs as though they were hands, its round eyes staring in their
circle of yellow. It reminded him of a toy made of straight slips of
wood nailed zigzag one on the other; which by a similar movement
regulated the movements of the little soldiers fastened thereon. Then he
thought of his home, and then of his mother, and, overcome by sorrow, he
again began to weep. A shiver passed over him. He knelt down and said
his prayers as before going to bed. But he was unable to finish them,
for tumultuous, violent sobs shook his whole frame. He no longer
thought, he no longer saw anything around him, and was wholly absorbed in
Suddenly a heavy hand was placed upon his shoulder, and a rough voice
"What is it that causes you so much grief, my little man?"
Simon turned round. A tall workman with a beard and black curly hair was
staring at him good-naturedly. He answered with his eyes and throat full
"They beat me--because--I--I have no--papa--no papa."
"What!" said the man, smiling; "why, everybody has one."
The child answered painfully amid his spasms of grief:
"But I--I--I have none."
Then the workman became serious. He had recognized La Blanchotte's son,
and, although himself a new arrival in the neighborhood, he had a vague
idea of her history.
"Well," said he, "console yourself, my boy, and come with me home to your
mother. They will give you--a papa."
And so they started on the way, the big fellow holding the little fellow
by the hand, and the man smiled, for he was not sorry to see this
Blanchotte, who was, it was said, one of the prettiest girls of the
countryside, and, perhaps, he was saying to himself, at the bottom of his
heart, that a lass who had erred might very well err again.
They arrived in front of a very neat little white house.
"There it is," exclaimed the child, and he cried, "Mamma!"
A woman appeared, and the workman instantly left off smiling, for he saw
at once that there was no fooling to be done with the tall pale girl who
stood austerely at her door as though to defend from one man the
threshold of that house where she had already been betrayed by another.
Intimidated, his cap in his hand, he stammered out:
"See, madame, I have brought you back your little boy who had lost
himself near the river."
But Simon flung his arms about his mother's neck and told her, as he
again began to cry:
"No, mamma, I wished to drown myself, because the others had beaten me--
had beaten me--because I have no papa."
A burning redness covered the young woman's cheeks; and, hurt to the
quick, she embraced her child passionately, while the tears coursed down
her face. The man, much moved, stood there, not knowing how to get away.
But Simon suddenly ran to him and said:
"Will you be my papa?"
A deep silence ensued. La Blanchotte, dumb and tortured with shame,
leaned herself against the wall, both her hands upon her heart. The
child, seeing that no answer was made him, replied:
"If you will not, I shall go back and drown myself."
The workman took the matter as a jest and answered, laughing:
"Why, yes, certainly I will."
"What is your name," went on the child, "so that I may tell the others
when they wish to know your name?"
"Philip," answered the man:
Simon was silent a moment so that he might get the name well into his
head; then he stretched out his arms, quite consoled, as he said:
"Well, then, Philip, you are my papa."
The workman, lifting him from the ground, kissed him hastily on both
cheeks, and then walked away very quickly with great strides.
When the child returned to school next day he was received with a
spiteful laugh, and at the end of school, when the lads were on the point
of recommencing, Simon threw these words at their heads as he would have
done a stone: "He is named Philip, my papa."
Yells of delight burst out from all sides.
"Philip who? Philip what? What on earth is Philip? Where did you pick
up your Philip?"
Simon answered nothing; and, immovable in his faith, he defied them with
his eye, ready to be martyred rather than fly before them. The school
master came to his rescue and he returned home to his mother.
During three months, the tall workman, Philip, frequently passed by La
Blanchotte's house, and sometimes he made bold to speak to her when he
saw her sewing near the window. She answered him civilly, always
sedately, never joking with him, nor permitting him to enter her house.
Notwithstanding, being, like all men, a bit of a coxcomb, he imagined
that she was often rosier than usual when she chatted with him.
But a lost reputation is so difficult to regain and always remains so
fragile that, in spite of the shy reserve of La Blanchotte, they already
gossiped in the neighborhood.
As for Simon he loved his new papa very much, and walked with him nearly
every evening when the day's work was done. He went regularly to school,
and mixed with great dignity with his schoolfellows without ever
answering them back.
One day, however, the lad who had first attacked him said to him:
"You have lied. You have not a papa named Philip."
"Why do you say that?" demanded Simon, much disturbed.
The youth rubbed his hands. He replied:
"Because if you had one he would be your mamma's husband."
Simon was confused by the truth of this reasoning; nevertheless, he
"He is my papa, all the same."
"That can very well be," exclaimed the urchin with a sneer, "but that is
not being your papa altogether."
La Blanchotte's little one bowed his head and went off dreaming in the
direction of the forge belonging to old Loizon, where Philip worked.
This forge was as though buried beneath trees. It was very dark there;
the red glare of a formidable furnace alone lit up with great flashes
five blacksmiths; who hammered upon their anvils with a terrible din.
They were standing enveloped in flame, like demons, their eyes fixed on
the red-hot iron they were pounding; and their dull ideas rose and fell
with their hammers.
Simon entered without being noticed, and went quietly to pluck his friend
by the sleeve. The latter turned round. All at once the work came to a
standstill, and all the men looked on, very attentive. Then, in the
midst of this unaccustomed silence, rose the slender pipe of Simon:
"Say, Philip, the Michaude boy told me just now that you were not
altogether my papa."
"Why not?" asked the blacksmith,
The child replied with all innocence:
"Because you are not my mamma's husband."
No one laughed. Philip remained standing, leaning his forehead upon the
back of his great hands, which supported the handle of his hammer
standing upright upon the anvil. He mused. His four companions watched
him, and Simon, a tiny mite among these giants, anxiously waited.
Suddenly, one of the smiths, answering to the sentiment of all, said to
"La Blanchotte is a good, honest girl, and upright and steady in spite of
her misfortune, and would make a worthy wife for an honest man."
"That is true," remarked the three others.
The smith continued:
"Is it the girl's fault if she went wrong? She had been promised
marriage; and I know more than one who is much respected to-day, and who
sinned every bit as much."
"That is true," responded the three men in chorus.
"How hard she has toiled, poor thing, to bring up her child all alone,
and how she has wept all these years she has never gone out except to
church, God only knows."
"This is also true," said the others.
Then nothing was heard but the bellows which fanned the fire of the
furnace. Philip hastily bent himself down to Simon:
"Go and tell your mother that I am coming to speak to her this evening."
Then he pushed the child out by the shoulders. He returned to his work,
and with a single blow the five hammers again fell upon their anvils.
Thus they wrought the iron until nightfall, strong, powerful, happy, like
contented hammers. But just as the great bell of a cathedral resounds
upon feast days above the jingling of the other bells, so Philip's
hammer, sounding above the rest, clanged second after second with a
deafening uproar. And he stood amid the flying sparks plying his trade
The sky was full of stars as he knocked at La Blanchotte's door. He had
on his Sunday blouse, a clean shirt, and his beard was trimmed. The
young woman showed herself upon the threshold, and said in a grieved
"It is ill to come thus when night has fallen, Mr. Philip."
He wished to answer, but stammered and stood confused before her.
"You understand, do you not, that it will not do for me to be talked
"What does that matter to me, if you will be my wife!"
No voice replied to him, but he believed that he heard in the shadow of
the room the sound of a falling body. He entered quickly; and Simon, who
had gone to bed, distinguished the sound of a kiss and some words that
his mother murmured softly. Then, all at once, he found himself lifted
up by the hands of his friend, who, holding him at the length of his
herculean arms, exclaimed:
"You will tell them, your schoolmates, that your papa is Philip Remy, the
blacksmith, and that he will pull the ears of all who do you any harm."
On the morrow, when the school was full and lessons were about to begin,
little Simon stood up, quite pale with trembling lips:
"My papa," said he in a clear voice, "is Philip Remy, the blacksmith, and
he has promised to pull the ears of all who does me any harm."
This time no one laughed, for he was very well known, was Philip Remy,
the blacksmith, and was a papa of whom any one in the world would have
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 12.
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
A COUNTRY EXCURSION
A SISTER'S CONFESSION
A DEAD WOMAN'S SECRET
A HUMBLE DRAMA
THE CORSICAN BANDIT
Lemonnier had remained a widower with one child. He had loved his wife
devotedly, with a tender and exalted love, without a slip, during their
entire married life. He was a good, honest man, perfectly simple,
sincere, without suspicion or malice.
He fell in love with a poor neighbor, proposed and was accepted. He was
making a very comfortable living out of the wholesale cloth business, and
he did not for a minute suspect that the young girl might have accepted
him for anything else but himself.
She made him happy. She was everything to him; he only thought of her,
looked at her continually, with worshiping eyes. During meals he would
make any number of blunders, in order not to have to take his eyes from
the beloved face; he would pour the wine in his plate and the water in
the salt-cellar, then he would laugh like a child, repeating:
"You see, I love you too much; that makes me crazy."
She would smile with a calm and resigned look; then she would look away,
as though embarrassed by the adoration of her husband, and try to make
him talk about something else; but he would take her hand under the table
and he would hold it in his, whispering:
"My little Jeanne, my darling little Jeanne!"
She sometimes lost patience and said:
"Come, come, be reasonable; eat and let me eat."
He would sigh and break off a mouthful of bread, which he would then chew
For five years they had no children. Then suddenly she announced to him
that this state of affairs would soon cease. He was wild with joy. He
no longer left her for a minute, until his old nurse, who had brought him
up and who often ruled the house, would push him out and close the door
behind him, in order to compel him to go out in the fresh air.
He had grown very intimate with a young man who had known his wife since
childhood, and who was one of the prefect's secretaries. M. Duretour
would dine three times a week with the Lemonniers, bringing flowers to
madame, and sometimes a box at the theater; and often, at the end of the
dinner, Lemonnier, growing tender, turning towards his wife, would
explain: "With a companion like you and a friend like him, a man is
completely happy on earth."
She died in childbirth. The shock almost killed him. But the sight of
the child, a poor, moaning little creature, gave him courage.
He loved it with a passionate and sorrowful love, with a morbid love in
which stuck the memory of death, but in which lived something of his
worship for the dead mother. It was the flesh of his wife, her being
continued, a sort of quintessence of herself. This child was her very
life transferred to another body; she had disappeared that it might
exist, and the father would smother it in with kisses. But also, this
child had killed her; he had stolen this beloved creature, his life was
at the cost of hers. And M. Lemonnier would place his son in the cradle
and would sit down and watch him. He would sit this way by the hour,
looking at him, dreaming of thousands of things, sweet or sad. Then,
when the little one was asleep, he would bend over him and sob.
The child grew. The father could no longer spend an hour away from him;
he would stay near him, take him out for walks, and himself dress him,
wash him, make him eat. His friend, M. Duretour, also seemed to love the
boy; he would kiss him wildly, in those frenzies of tenderness which are
characteristic of parents. He would toss him in his arms, he would trot
him on his knees, by the hour, and M. Lemonnier, delighted, would mutter:
"Isn't he a darling? Isn't he a darling?"
And M. Duretour would hug the child in his arms and tickle his neck with
Celeste, the old nurse, alone, seemed to have no tenderness for the
little one. She would grow angry at his pranks, and seemed impatient at
the caresses of the two men. She would exclaim:
"How can you expect to bring a child up like that? You'll make a perfect
monkey out of him."
Years went by, and Jean was nine years old. He hardly knew how to read;
he had been so spoiled, and only did as he saw fit. He was willful,
stubborn and quick-tempered. The father always gave in to him and let
him have his own way. M. Duretour would always buy him all the toys he
wished, and he fed him on cake and candies. Then Celeste would grow
angry and exclaim:
"It's a shame, monsieur, a shame. You are spoiling this child. But it
will have to stop; yes, sir, I tell you it will have to stop, and before
M. Lemonnier would answer, smiling:
"What can you expect? I love him too much, I can't resist him; you must
get used to it."
Jean was delicate, rather. The doctor said that he was anaemic,
prescribed iron, rare meat and broth.
But the little fellow loved only cake and refused all other nourishment;
and the father, in despair, stuffed him with cream-puffs and chocolate
One evening, as they were sitting down to supper, Celeste brought on the
soup with an air of authority and an assurance which she did not usually
have. She took off the cover and, dipping the ladle into the dish, she
"Here is some broth such as I have never made; the young one will have to
take some this time."
M. Lemonnier, frightened, bent his head. He saw a storm brewing.
Celeste took his plate, filled it herself and placed it in front of him.
He tasted the soup and said:
"It is, indeed, excellent."
The servant took the boy's plate and poured a spoonful of soup in it.
Then she retreated a few steps and waited.
Jean smelled the food and pushed his plate away with an expression of
disgust. Celeste, suddenly pale, quickly stepped forward and forcibly
poured a spoonful down the child's open mouth.
He choked, coughed, sneezed, spat; howling, he seized his glass and threw
it at his nurse. She received it full in the stomach. Then,
exasperated, she took the young shaver's head under her arm and began
pouring spoonful after spoonful of soup down his throat. He grew as red
as a beet, and he would cough it up, stamping, twisting, choking, beating
the air with his hands.
At first the father was so surprised that he could not move. Then,
suddenly, he rushed forward, wild with rage, seized the servant by the
throat and threw her up against the wall stammering:
"Out! Out! Out! you brute!"
But she shook him off, and, her hair streaming down her back, her eyes
snapping, she cried out:
"What's gettin' hold of you? You're trying to thrash me because I am
making this child eat soup when you are filling him with sweet stuff!"
He kept repeating, trembling from head to foot:
"Out! Get out-get out, you brute!"
Then, wild, she turned to him and, pushing her face up against his, her
"Ah!--you think-you think that you can treat me like that? Oh! no. And
for whom?--for that brat who is not even yours. No, not yours! No, not
yours--not yours! Everybody knows it, except yourself! Ask the grocer,
the butcher, the baker, all of them, any one of them!"
She was growling and mumbling, choked with passion; then she stopped and
looked at him.
He was motionless livid, his arms hanging by his sides. After a short
pause, he murmured in a faint, shaky voice, instinct with deep feeling:
"You say? you say? What do you say?"
She remained silent, frightened by his appearance. Once more he stepped
"You say--what do you say?"
Then in a calm voice, she answered:
"I say what I know, what everybody knows."
He seized her and, with the fury of a beast, he tried to throw her down.
But, although old, she was strong and nimble. She slipped under his arm,
and running around the table once more furious, she screamed:
"Look at him, just look at him, fool that you are! Isn't he the living
image of M. Durefour? just look at his nose and his eyes! Are yours like
that? And his hair! Is it like his mother's? I tell you that everyone
knows it, everyone except yourself! It's the joke of the town! Look at
She went to the door, opened it, and disappeared.
Jean, frightened, sat motionless before his plate of soup.
At the end of an hour, she returned gently, to see how matters stood.
The child, after doing away with all the cakes and a pitcher full of
cream and one of syrup, was now emptying the jam-pot with his soup-spoon.
The father had gone out.
Celeste took the child, kissed him, and gently carried him to his room
and put him to bed. She came back to the dining-room, cleared the table,
put everything in place, feeling very uneasy all the time.
Not a single sound could be heard throughout the house. She put her ear
against's her master's door. He seemed to be perfectly still. She put
her eye to the keyhole. He was writing, and seemed very calm.
Then she returned to the kitchen and sat down, ready for any emergency.
She slept on a chair and awoke at daylight.
She did the rooms as she had been accustomed to every morning; she swept
and dusted, and, towards eight o'clock, prepared M. Lemonnier's
But she did not dare bring it to her master, knowing too well how she
would be received; she waited for him to ring. But he did not ring.
Nine o'clock, then ten o'clock went by.
Celeste, not knowing what to think, prepared her tray and started up with
it, her heart beating fast.
She stopped before the door and listened. Everything was still. She
knocked; no answer. Then, gathering up all her courage, she opened the
door and entered. With a wild shriek, she dropped the breakfast tray
which she had been holding in her hand.
In the middle of the room, M. Lemonnier was hanging by a rope from a ring
in the ceiling. His tongue was sticking out horribly. His right slipper
was lying on the ground, his left one still on his foot. An upturned
chair had rolled over to the bed.
Celeste, dazed, ran away shrieking. All the neighbors crowded together.
The physician declared that he had died at about midnight.
A letter addressed to M. Duretdur was found on the table of the suicide.
It contained these words:
"I leave and entrust the child to you!"
A COUNTRY EXCURSION
For five months they had been talking of going to take luncheon in one of
the country suburbs of Paris on Madame Dufour's birthday, and as they
were looking forward very impatiently to the outing, they rose very early
that morning. Monsieur Dufour had borrowed the milkman's wagon and drove
himself. It was a very tidy, two-wheeled conveyance, with a cover
supported by four iron rods, with curtains that had been drawn up, except
the one at the back, which floated out like a sail. Madame Dufour,
resplendent in a wonderful, cherry colored silk dress, sat by the side of
The old grandmother and a girl sat behind them on two chairs, and a boy
with yellow hair was lying at the bottom of the wagon, with nothing to be
seen of him except his head.
When they reached the bridge of Neuilly, Monsieur Dufour said: "Here we
are in the country at last!" and at that signal his wife grew sentimental
about the beauties of nature. When they got to the crossroads at
Courbevoie they were seized with admiration for the distant landscape.
On the right was Argenteuil with its bell tower, and above it rose the
hills of Sannois and the mill of Orgemont, while on the left the aqueduct
of Marly stood out against the clear morning sky, and in the distance
they could see the terrace of Saint-Germain; and opposite them, at the
end of a low chain of hills, the new fort of Cormeilles. Quite in the
distance; a very long way off, beyond the plains and village, one could
see the sombre green of the forests.
The sun was beginning to burn their faces, the dust got into their eyes,
and on either side of the road there stretched an interminable tract of
bare, ugly country with an unpleasant odor. One might have thought that
it had been ravaged by a pestilence, which had even attacked the
buildings, for skeletons of dilapidated and deserted houses, or small
cottages, which were left in an unfinished state, because the contractors
had not been paid, reared their four roofless walls on each side.
Here and there tall factory chimneys rose up from the barren soil. The
only vegetation on that putrid land, where the spring breezes wafted an
odor of petroleum and slate, blended with another odor that was even less
agreeable. At last, however, they crossed the Seine a second time, and
the bridge was a delight. The river sparkled in the sun, and they had a
feeling of quiet enjoyment, felt refreshed as they drank in the purer air
that was not impregnated by the black smoke of factories nor by the
miasma from the deposits of night soil. A man whom they met told them
that the name of the place was Bezons. Monsieur Dufour pulled up and
read the attractive announcement outside an eating house: Restaurant
Poulin, matelottes and fried fish, private rooms, arbors, and swings.
"Well, Madame Dufour, will this suit you? Will you make up your mind at
She read the announcement in her turn and then looked at the house for
It was a white country inn, built by the roadside, and through the open
door she could see the bright zinc of the counter, at which sat two
workmen in their Sunday clothes. At last she made up her mind and said:
"Yes, this will do; and, besides, there is a view."
They drove into a large field behind the inn, separated from the river by
the towing path, and dismounted. The husband sprang out first and then
held out his arms for his wife, and as the step was very high Madame
Dufour, in order to reach him, had to show the lower part of her limbs,
whose former slenderness had disappeared in fat, and Monsieur Dufour, who
was already getting excited by the country air, pinched her calf, and
then, taking her in his arms, he set her on the ground, as if she had
been some enormous bundle. She shook the dust out of the silk dress and
then looked round to see in what sort of a place she was.
She was a stout woman, of about thirty-six, full-blown, and delightful to
look at. She could hardly breathe, as her corsets were laced too
tightly, and their pressure forced her superabundant bosom up to her
double chin. Next the girl placed her hand on her father's shoulder and
jumped down lightly. The boy with the yellow hair had got down by
stepping on the wheel, and he helped Monsieur Dufour to lift his
grandmother out. Then they unharnessed the horse, which they had tied to
a tree, and the carriage fell back, with both shafts in the air. The men
took off their coats and washed their hands in a pail of water and then
went and joined the ladies, who had already taken possession of the
Mademoiselle Dufour was trying to swing herself standing up, but she
could not succeed in getting a start. She was a pretty girl of about
eighteen, one of those women who suddenly excite your desire when you
meet them in the street and who leave you with a vague feeling of
uneasiness and of excited senses. She was tall, had a small waist and
large hips, with a dark skin, very large eyes and very black hair. Her
dress clearly marked the outlines of her firm, full figure, which was
accentuated by the motion of her hips as she tried to swing herself
higher. Her arms were stretched upward to hold the rope, so that her
bosom rose at every movement she made. Her hat, which a gust of wind had
blown off, was hanging behind her, and as the swing gradually rose higher
and higher, she showed her delicate limbs up to the knees each time, and
the breeze from her flying skirts, which was more heady than the fumes of
wine, blew into the faces of the two men, who were looking at her and
Sitting in the other swing, Madame Dufour kept saying in a monotonous
"Cyprian, come and swing me; do come and swing me, Cyprian!"
At last he went, and turning up his shirt sleeves, as if undertaking a
hard piece of work, with much difficulty he set his wife in motion. She
clutched the two ropes and held her legs out straight, so as not to touch
the ground. She enjoyed feeling dizzy at the motion of the swing, and
her whole figure shook like a jelly on a dish, but as she went higher and
higher; she became too giddy and was frightened. Each time the swing
came down she uttered a piercing scream, which made all the little
urchins in the neighborhood come round, and down below, beneath the
garden hedge, she vaguely saw a row of mischievous heads making various
grimaces as they laughed.
When a servant girl came out they ordered luncheon.
"Some fried fish, a rabbit saute, salad and dessert," Madame Dufour said,
with an important air.
"Bring two quarts of beer and a bottle of claret," her husband said.
"We will have lunch on the grass," the girl added.
The grandmother, who had an affection for cats, had been running after
one that belonged to the house, trying to coax it to come to her for the
last ten minutes. The animal, who was no doubt secretly flattered by her
attentions, kept close to the good woman, but just out of reach of her
hand, and quietly walked round the trees, against which she rubbed
herself, with her tail up, purring with pleasure.
"Hello!" suddenly exclaimed the young man with the yellow hair, who was
wandering about. "Here are two swell boats!" They all went to look at
them and saw two beautiful canoes in a wooden shed; they were as
beautifully finished as if they had been ornamental furniture. They hung
side by side, like two tall, slender girls, in their narrow shining
length, and made one wish to float in them on warm summer mornings and
evenings along the flower-covered banks of the river, where the trees dip
their branches into the water, where the rushes are continually rustling
in the breeze and where the swift kingfishers dart about like flashes of
The whole family looked at them with great respect.
"Oh, they are indeed swell boats!" Monsieur Dufour repeated gravely, as
he examined them like a connoiseur. He had been in the habit of rowing
in his younger days, he said, and when he had spat in his hands--and he
went through the action of pulling the oars--he did not care a fig for
anybody. He had beaten more than one Englishman formerly at the
Joinville regattas. He grew quite excited at last and offered to make a
bet that in a boat like that he could row six leagues an hour without
"Luncheon is ready," the waitress said, appearing at the entrance to the
boathouse, and they all hurried off. But two young men had taken the
very seats that Madame Dufour had selected and were eating their
luncheon. No doubt they were the owners of the sculls, for they were in
boating costume. They were stretched out, almost lying on the chairs;
they were sun-browned and their thin cotton jerseys, with short sleeves,
showed their bare arms, which were as strong as a blacksmith's. They
were two strong, athletic fellows, who showed in all their movements that
elasticity and grace of limb which can only be acquired by exercise and
which is so different to the deformity with which monotonous heavy work
stamps the mechanic.
They exchanged a rapid smile when they saw the mother and then a glance
on seeing the daughter.
"Let us give up our place," one of them said; "it will make us acquainted
The other got up immediately, and holding his black and red boating cap
in his hand, he politely offered the ladies the only shady place in the
garden. With many excuses they accepted, and that it might be more
rural, they sat on the grass, without either tables or chairs.
The two young men took their plates, knives, forks, etc., to a table a
little way off and began to eat again, and their bare arms, which they
showed continually, rather embarrassed the girl. She even pretended to
turn her head aside and not to see them, while Madame Dufour, who was
rather bolder, tempted by feminine curiosity, looked at them every
moment, and, no doubt, compared them with the secret unsightliness of her
husband. She had squatted herself on ground, with her legs tucked under
her, after the manner of tailors, and she kept moving about restlessly,
saying that ants were crawling about her somewhere. Monsieur Dufour,
annoyed at the presence of the polite strangers, was trying to find a
comfortable position which he did not, however, succeed in doing, and the
young man with the yellow hair was eating as silently as an ogre.
"It is lovely weather, monsieur," the stout lady said to one of the
boating men. She wished to be friendly because they had given up their
"It is, indeed, madame," he replied. "Do you often go into the country?"
"Oh, only once or twice a year to get a little fresh air. And you,
"I come and sleep here every night."
"Oh, that must be very nice!"
"Certainly it is, madame." And he gave them such a practical account of
his daily life that it awakened afresh in the hearts of these shopkeepers
who were deprived of the meadows and who longed for country walks, to
that foolish love of nature which they all feel so strongly the whole
year round behind the counter in their shop.
The girl raised her eyes and looked at the oarsman with emotion and
Monsieur Dufour spoke for the first time.
"It is indeed a happy life," he said. And then he added: "A little more
rabbit, my dear?"
"No, thank you," she replied, and turning to the young men again, and
pointing to their arms, asked: "Do you never feel cold like that?"
They both began to laugh, and they astonished the family with an account
of the enormous fatigue they could endure, of their bathing while in a
state of tremendous perspiration, of their rowing in the fog at night;
and they struck their chests violently to show how hollow they sounded.
"Ah! You look very strong," said the husband, who did not talk any more
of the time when he used to beat the English. The girl was looking at
them sideways now, and the young fellow with the yellow hair, who had
swallowed some wine the wrong way, was coughing violently and
bespattering Madame Dufour's cherry-colored silk dress. She got angry
and sent for some water to wash the spots.
Meanwhile it had grown unbearably hot, the sparkling river looked like a
blaze of fire and the fumes of the wine were getting into their heads.
Monsieur Dufour, who had a violent hiccough, had unbuttoned his waistcoat
and the top button of his trousers, while his wife, who felt choking, was
gradually unfastening her dress. The apprentice was shaking his yellow
wig in a happy frame of mind, and kept helping himself to wine, and the
old grandmother, feeling the effects of the wine, was very stiff and
dignified. As for the girl, one noticed only a peculiar brightness in
her eyes, while the brown cheeks became more rosy.
The coffee finished, they suggested singing, and each of them sang or
repeated a couplet, which the others applauded frantically. Then they
got up with some difficulty, and while the two women, who were rather
dizzy, were trying to get a breath of air, the two men, who were
altogether drunk, were attempting gymnastics. Heavy, limp and with
scarlet faces they hung or, awkwardly to the iron rings, without being
able to raise themselves.
Meanwhile the two boating men had got their boats into the water, and
they came back and politely asked the ladies whether they would like a
"Would you like one, Monsieur Dufour?" his wife exclaimed. "Please