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Maupassant Original Short Stories, Complete by Guy de Maupassant

Part 31 out of 31

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"In this place?"

"Yes, in this place."

"You surprise me."

"Mon Dieu, they enjoy themselves because they have not that fear of death
which is the great killjoy in all our earthly pleasures."

"But why should they be members of this club if they do not kill
themselves?"

"One may be a member of the club without being obliged for that reason to
commit suicide."

"But then?"

"I will explain. In view of the enormous increase in suicides, and of
the hideous spectacle they presented, a purely benevolent society was
formed for the protection of those in despair, which placed at their
disposal the facilities for a peaceful, painless, if not unforeseen
death."

"Who can have authorized such an institution?"

"General Boulanger during his brief tenure of power. He could never
refuse anything. However, that was the only good thing he did. Hence, a
society was formed of clear-sighted, disillusioned skeptics who desired
to erect in the heart of Paris a kind of temple dedicated to the contempt
for death. This place was formerly a dreaded spot that no one ventured
to approach. Then its founders, who met together here, gave a grand
inaugural entertainment with Mmes. Sarah Bernhardt, Judic, Theo, Granier,
and twenty others, and Mme. de Reske, Coquelin, Mounet-Sully, Paulus,
etc., present, followed by concerts, the comedies of Dumas, of Meilhac,
Halevy and Sardon. We had only one thing to mar it, one drama by Becque
which seemed sad, but which subsequently had a great success at the
Comedie-Francaise. In fact all Paris came. The enterprise was
launched."

"In the midst of the festivities! What a funereal joke!"

"Not at all. Death need not be sad, it should be a matter of
indifference. We made death cheerful, crowned it with flowers, covered
it with perfume, made it easy. One learns to aid others through example;
one can see that it is nothing."

"I can well understand that they should come to the entertainments; but
did they come to . . . Death?"

"Not at first; they were afraid."

"And later?"

"They came."

"Many of them?"

"In crowds. We have had more than forty in a day. One finds hardly any
more drowned bodies in the Seine."

"Who was the first?"

"A club member."

"As a sacrifice to the cause?"

"I don't think so. A man who was sick of everything, a 'down and out'
who had lost heavily at baccarat for three months."

"Indeed?"

"The second was an Englishman, an eccentric. We then advertised in the
papers, we gave an account of our methods, we invented some attractive
instances. But the great impetus was given by poor people."

"How do you go to work?"

"Would you like to see? I can explain at the same time."

"Yes, indeed."

He took his hat, opened the door, allowed me to precede him, and we
entered a card room, where men sat playing as they, play in all gambling
places. They were chatting cheerfully, eagerly. I have seldom seen such
a jolly, lively, mirthful club.

As I seemed surprised, the secretary said:

"Oh, the establishment has an unheard of prestige. All the smart people
all over the world belong to it so as to appear as though they held death
in scorn. Then, once they get here, they feel obliged to be cheerful
that they may not appear to be afraid. So they joke and laugh and talk
flippantly, they are witty and they become so. At present it is
certainly the most frequented and the most entertaining place in Paris.
The women are even thinking of building an annex for themselves."

"And, in spite of all this, you have many suicides in the house?"

"As I said, about forty or fifty a day. Society people are rare, but
poor devils abound. The middle class has also a large contingent.

"And how . . . do they do?"

"They are asphyxiated . . . very slowly."

"In what manner?"

"A gas of our own invention. We have the patent. On the other side of
the building are the public entrances--three little doors opening on
small streets. When a man or a woman present themselves they are
interrogated. Then they are offered assistance, aid, protection. If a
client accepts, inquiries are made; and sometimes we have saved their
lives."

"Where do you get your money?"

"We have a great deal. There are a large number of shareholders.
Besides it is fashionable to contribute to the establishment. The names
of the donors are published in Figaro. Then the suicide of every rich
man costs a thousand francs. And they look as if they were lying in
state. It costs the poor nothing."

"How can you tell who is poor?"

"Oh, oh, monsieur, we can guess! And, besides, they must bring a
certificate of indigency from the commissary of police of their district.
If you knew how distressing it is to see them come in! I visited their
part of our building once only, and I will never go again. The place
itself is almost as good as this part, almost as luxurious and
comfortable; but they themselves . . . they themselves!!! If you
could see them arriving, the old men in rags coming to die; persons who
have been dying of misery for months, picking up their food at the edges
of the curbstone like dogs in the street; women in rags, emaciated, sick,
paralyzed, incapable of making a living, who say to us after they have
told us their story: 'You see that things cannot go on like that, as I
cannot work any longer or earn anything.' I saw one woman of eighty-
seven who had lost all her children and grandchildren, and who for the
last six weeks had been sleeping out of doors. It made me ill to hear of
it. Then we have so many different cases, without counting those who say
nothing, but simply ask: 'Where is it?' These are admitted at once and
it is all over in a minute."

With a pang at my heart I repeated:

"And . . . where is it?"

"Here," and he opened a door, adding:

"Go in; this is the part specially reserved for club members, and the one
least used. We have so far had only eleven annihilations here."

"Ah! You call that an . . . annihilation!"

"Yes, monsieur. Go in."

I hesitated. At length I went in. It was a wide corridor, a sort of
greenhouse in which panes of glass of pale blue, tender pink and delicate
green gave the poetic charm of landscapes to the inclosing walls.
In this pretty salon there were divans, magnificent palms, flowers,
especially roses of balmy fragrance, books on the tables, the Revue des
Deuxmondes, cigars in government boxes, and, what surprised me, Vichy
pastilles in a bonbonniere.

As I expressed my surprise, my guide said:

"Oh, they often come here to chat." He continued: "The public corridors
are similar, but more simply furnished."

In reply to a question of mine, he pointed to a couch covered with creamy
crepe de Chine with white embroidery, beneath a large shrub of unknown
variety at the foot of which was a circular bed of mignonette.

The secretary added in a lower tone:

"We change the flower and the perfume at will, for our gas, which is
quite imperceptible, gives death the fragrance of the suicide's favorite
flower. It is volatilized with essences. Would you like to inhale it
for a second?"

"'No, thank you," I said hastily, "not yet . . . ."

He began to laugh.

"Oh, monsieur, there is no danger. I have tried it myself several
times."

I was afraid he would think me a coward, and I said:

"Well, I'll try it."

"Stretch yourself out on the 'endormeuse."'

A little uneasy I seated myself on the low couch covered with crepe de
Chine and stretched myself full length, and was at once bathed in a
delicious odor of mignonette. I opened my mouth in order to breathe it
in, for my mind had already become stupefied and forgetful of the past
and was a prey, in the first stages of asphyxia, to the enchanting
intoxication of a destroying and magic opium.

Some one shook me by the arm.

"Oh, oh, monsieur," said the secretary, laughing, "it looks to me as if
you were almost caught."

But a voice, a real voice, and no longer a dream voice, greeted me with
the peasant intonation:

"Good morning, m'sieu. How goes it?"

My dream was over. I saw the Seine distinctly in the sunlight, and,
coming along a path, the garde champetre of the district, who with his
right hand touched his kepi braided in silver. I replied:

"Good morning, Marinel. Where are you going?"

"I am going to look at a drowned man whom they fished up near the
Morillons. Another who has thrown himself into the soup. He even took
off his trousers in order to tie his legs together with them."

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