Original Short Stories, Volume 13.
Guy de Maupassant
Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Widger
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 13.
By Guy de Maupassant
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
THE LITTLE CASK
THE ENGLISHMEN OF ETRETAT
A FATHERS CONFESSION
A MOTHER OF MONSTERS
AN UNCOMFORTABLE BED
THE MOUNTAIN POOL
THE MAGIC COUCH
This entire stretch of country was amazing; it was characterized by a
grandeur that was almost religious, and yet it had an air of sinister
A great, wild lake, filled with stagnant, black water, in which thousands
of reeds were waving to and fro, lay in the midst of a vast circle of
naked hills, where nothing grew but broom, or here and there an oak
curiously twisted by the wind.
Just one house stood on the banks of that dark lake, a small, low house
inhabited by Uncle Joseph, an old boatman, who lived on what he could
make by his fishing. Once a week he carried the fish he caught into the
surrounding villages, returning with the few provisions that he needed
for his sustenance.
I went to see this old hermit, who offered to take me with him to his
nets, and I accepted.
His boat was old, worm-eaten and clumsy, and the skinny old man rowed
with a gentle and monotonous stroke that was soothing to the soul,
already oppressed by the sadness of the land round about.
It seemed to me as if I were transported to olden times, in the midst of
that ancient country, in that primitive boat, which was propelled by a
man of another age.
He took up his nets and threw the fish into the bottom of the boat, as
the fishermen of the Bible might have done. Then he took me down to the
end of the lake, where I suddenly perceived a ruin on the other side of
the bank a dilapidated hut, with an enormous red cross on the wall that
looked as if it might have been traced with blood, as it gleamed in the
last rays of the setting sun.
"What is that?" I asked.
"That is where Judas died," the man replied, crossing himself.
I was not surprised, being almost prepared for this strange answer.
Still I asked:
"Judas? What Judas?"
"The Wandering Jew, monsieur," he added.
I asked him to tell me this legend.
But it was better than a legend, being a true story, and quite a recent
one, since Uncle Joseph had known the man.
This hut had formerly been occupied by a large woman, a kind of beggar,
who lived on public charity.
Uncle Joseph did not remember from whom she had this hut. One evening an
old man with a white beard, who seemed to be at least two hundred years
old, and who could hardly drag himself along, asked alms of this forlorn
woman, as he passed her dwelling.
"Sit down, father," she replied; "everything here belongs to all the
world, since it comes from all the world."
He sat down on a stone before the door. He shared the woman's bread, her
bed of leaves, and her house.
He did not leave her again, for he had come to the end of his travels.
"It was Our Lady the Virgin who permitted this, monsieur," Joseph added,
"it being a woman who had opened her door to a Judas, for this old
vagabond was the Wandering Jew. It was not known at first in the
country, but the people suspected it very soon, because he was always
walking; it had become a sort of second nature to him."
And suspicion had been aroused by still another thing. This woman, who
kept that stranger with her, was thought to be a Jewess, for no one had
ever seen her at church. For ten miles around no one ever called her
anything else but the Jewess.
When the little country children saw her come to beg they cried out:
"Mamma, mamma, here is the Jewess!"
The old man and she began to go out together into the neighboring
districts, holding out their hands at all the doors, stammering
supplications into the ears of all the passers. They could be seen at
all hours of the day, on by-paths, in the villages, or again eating
bread, sitting in the noon heat under the shadow of some solitary tree.
And the country people began to call the beggar Old Judas.
One day he brought home in his sack two little live pigs, which a farmer
had given him after he had cured the farmer of some sickness.
Soon he stopped begging, and devoted himself entirely to his pigs.
He took them out to feed by the lake, or under isolated oaks, or in the
near-by valleys. The woman, however, went about all day begging, but she
always came back to him in the evening.
He also did not go to church, and no one ever had seen him cross himself
before the wayside crucifixes. All this gave rise to much gossip:
One night his companion was attacked by a fever and began to tremble like
a leaf in the wind. He went to the nearest town to get some medicine,
and then he shut himself up with her, and was not seen for six days.
The priest, having heard that the "Jewess" was about to die, came to
offer the consolation of his religion and administer the last sacrament.
Was she a Jewess? He did not know. But in any case, he wished to try to
save her soul.
Hardly had he knocked at the door when old Judas appeared on the
threshold, breathing hard, his eyes aflame, his long beard agitated,
like rippling water, and he hurled blasphemies in an unknown language,
extending his skinny arms in order to prevent the priest from entering.
The priest attempted to speak, offered his purse and his aid, but the old
man kept on abusing him, making gestures with his hands as if throwing;
stones at him.
Then the priest retired, followed by the curses of the beggar.
The companion of old Judas died the following day. He buried her
himself, in front of her door. They were people of so little account
that no one took any interest in them.
Then they saw the man take his pigs out again to the lake and up the
hillsides. And he also began begging again to get food. But the people
gave him hardly anything, as there was so much gossip about him. Every
one knew, moreover, how he had treated the priest.
Then he disappeared. That was during Holy Week, but no one paid any
attention to him.
But on Easter Sunday the boys and girls who had gone walking out to the
lake heard a great noise in the hut. The door was locked; but the boys
broke it in, and the two pigs ran out, jumping like gnats. No one ever
saw them again.
The whole crowd went in; they saw some old rags on the floor, the
beggar's hat, some bones, clots of dried blood and bits of flesh in the
hollows of the skull.
His pigs had devoured him.
"This happened on Good Friday, monsieur." Joseph concluded his story,
"three hours after noon."
"How do you know that?" I asked him.
"There is no doubt about that," he replied.
I did not attempt to make him understand that it could easily happen that
the famished animals had eaten their master, after he had died suddenly
in his hut.
As for the cross on the wall, it had appeared one morning, and no one
knew what hand traced it in that strange color.
Since then no one doubted any longer that the Wandering Jew had died on
I myself believed it for one hour.
THE LITTLE CASK
He was a tall man of forty or thereabout, this Jules Chicot, the
innkeeper of Spreville, with a red face and a round stomach, and said by
those who knew him to be a smart business man. He stopped his buggy in
front of Mother Magloire's farmhouse, and, hitching the horse to the
gatepost, went in at the gate.
Chicot owned some land adjoining that of the old woman, which he had been
coveting for a long while, and had tried in vain to buy a score of times,
but she had always obstinately refused to part with it.
"I was born here, and here I mean to die," was all she said.
He found her peeling potatoes outside the farmhouse door. She was a
woman of about seventy-two, very thin, shriveled and wrinkled, almost
dried up in fact and much bent but as active and untiring as a girl.
Chicot patted her on the back in a friendly fashion and then sat down by
her on a stool.
"Well mother, you are always pretty well and hearty, I am glad to see."
"Nothing to complain of, considering, thank you. And how are you,
"Oh, pretty well, thank you, except a few rheumatic pains occasionally;
otherwise I have nothing to complain of."
"So much the better."
And she said no more, while Chicot watched her going on with her work.
Her crooked, knotted fingers, hard as a lobster's claws, seized the
tubers, which were lying in a pail, as if they had been a pair of
pincers, and she peeled them rapidly, cutting off long strips of skin
with an old knife which she held in the other hand, throwing the potatoes
into the water as they were done. Three daring fowls jumped one after
the other into her lap, seized a bit of peel and then ran away as fast as
their legs would carry them with it in their beak.
Chicot seemed embarrassed, anxious, with something on the tip of his
tongue which he could not say. At last he said hurriedly:
"Listen, Mother Magloire--"
"Well, what is it?"
"You are quite sure that you do not want to sell your land?"
"Certainly not; you may make up your mind to that. What I have said I
have said, so don't refer to it again."
"Very well; only I think I know of an arrangement that might suit us both
"What is it?"
"Just this. You shall sell it to me and keep it all the same. You don't
understand? Very well, then follow me in what I am going to say."
The old woman left off peeling potatoes and looked at the innkeeper
attentively from under her heavy eyebrows, and he went on:
"Let me explain myself. Every month I will give you a hundred and fifty
francs. You understand me! suppose! Every month I will come and bring
you thirty crowns, and it will not make the slightest difference in your
life--not the very slightest. You will have your own home just as you
have now, need not trouble yourself about me, and will owe me nothing;
all you will have to do will be to take my money. Will that arrangement
He looked at her good-humoredly, one might almost have said benevolently,
and the old woman returned his looks distrustfully, as if she suspected a
trap, and said:
"It seems all right as far as I am concerned, but it will not give you
"Never mind about that," he said; "you may remain here as long as it
pleases God Almighty to let you live; it will be your home. Only you
will sign a deed before a lawyer making it over to me; after your death.
You have no children, only nephews and nieces for whom you don't care a
straw. Will that suit you? You will keep everything during your life,
and I will give you the thirty crowns a month. It is pure gain as far as
you are concerned."
The old woman was surprised, rather uneasy, but, nevertheless, very much
tempted to agree, and answered:
"I don't say that I will not agree to it, but I must think about it.
Come back in a week, and we will talk it over again, and I will then give
you my definite answer."
And Chicot went off as happy as a king who had conquered an empire.
Mother Magloire was thoughtful, and did not sleep at all that night; in
fact, for four days she was in a fever of hesitation. She suspected that
there was something underneath the offer which was not to her advantage;
but then the thought of thirty crowns a month, of all those coins
clinking in her apron, falling to her, as it were, from the skies,
without her doing anything for it, aroused her covetousness.
She went to the notary and told him about it. He advised her to accept
Chicot's offer, but said she ought to ask for an annuity of fifty instead
of thirty, as her farm was worth sixty thousand francs at the lowest
"If you live for fifteen years longer," he said, "even then he will only
have paid forty-five thousand francs for it."
The old woman trembled with joy at this prospect of getting fifty crowns
a month, but she was still suspicious, fearing some trick, and she
remained a long time with the lawyer asking questions without being able
to make up her mind to go. At last she gave him instructions to draw up
the deed and returned home with her head in a whirl, just as if she had
drunk four jugs of new cider.
When Chicot came again to receive her answer she declared, after a lot of
persuading, that she could not make up her mind to agree to his proposal,
though she was all the time trembling lest he should not consent to give
the fifty crowns, but at last, when he grew urgent, she told him what she
expected for her farm.
He looked surprised and disappointed and refused.
Then, in order to convince him, she began to talk about the probable
duration of her life.
"I am certainly not likely to live more than five or six years longer.
I am nearly seventy-three, and far from strong, even considering my age.
The other evening I thought I was going to die, and could hardly manage
to crawl into bed."
But Chicot was not going to be taken in.
"Come, come, old lady, you are as strong as the church tower, and will
live till you are a hundred at least; you will no doubt see me put under
The whole day was spent in discussing the money, and as the old woman
would not give in, the innkeeper consented to give the fifty crowns, and
she insisted upon having ten crowns over and above to strike the bargain.
Three years passed and the old dame did not seem to have grown a day
older. Chicot was in despair, and it seemed to him as if he had been
paying that annuity for fifty years, that he had been taken in, done,
ruined. From time to time he went to see the old lady, just as one goes
in July to see when the harvest is likely to begin. She always met him
with a cunning look, and one might have supposed that she was
congratulating herself on the trick she had played him. Seeing how well
and hearty she seemed he very soon got into his buggy again, growling to
"Will you never die, you old hag?"
He did not know what to do, and he felt inclined to strangle her when he
saw her. He hated her with a ferocious, cunning hatred, the hatred of a
peasant who has been robbed, and began to cast about for some means of
getting rid of her.
One day he came to see her again, rubbing his hands as he did the first
time he proposed the bargain, and, after having chatted for a few
minutes, he said:
"Why do you never come and have a bit of dinner at my place when you are
in Spreville? The people are talking about it, and saying we are not on
friendly terms, and that pains me. You know it will cost you nothing if
you come, for I don't look at the price of a dinner. Come whenever you
feel inclined; I shall be very glad to see you."
Old Mother Magloire did not need to be asked twice, and the next day but
one, as she had to go to the town in any case, it being market day, she
let her man drive her to Chicot's place, where the buggy was put in the
barn while she went into the house to get her dinner.
The innkeeper was delighted and treated her like a lady, giving her roast
fowl, black pudding, leg of mutton and bacon and cabbage. But she ate
next to nothing. She had always been a small eater, and had generally
lived on a little soup and a crust of bread and butter.
Chicot was disappointed and pressed her to eat more, but she refused, and
she would drink little, and declined coffee, so he asked her:
"But surely you will take a little drop of brandy or liqueur?"
"Well, as to that, I don't know that I will refuse." Whereupon he
"Rosalie, bring the superfine brandy--the special--you know."
The servant appeared, carrying a long bottle ornamented with a paper
vine-leaf, and he filled two liqueur glasses.
"Just try that; you will find it first rate."
The good woman drank it slowly in sips, so as to make the pleasure last
all the longer, and when she had finished her glass, she said:
"Yes, that is first rate!"
Almost before she had said it Chicot had poured her out another glassful.
She wished to refuse, but it was too late, and she drank it very slowly,
as she had done the first, and he asked her to have a third. She
objected, but he persisted.
"It is as mild as milk, you know; I can drink ten or a dozen glasses
without any ill effects; it goes down like sugar and does not go to the
head; one would think that it evaporated on the tongue: It is the most
wholesome thing you can drink."
She took it, for she really enjoyed it, but she left half the glass.
Then Chicot, in an excess of generosity, said:
"Look here, as it is so much to your taste, I will give you a small keg
of it, just to show that you and I are still excellent friends." So she
took one away with her, feeling slightly overcome by the effects of what
she had drunk.
The next day the innkeeper drove into her yard and took a little iron-
hooped keg out of his gig. He insisted on her tasting the contents, to
make sure it was the same delicious article, and, when they had each of
them drunk three more glasses, he said as he was going away:
"Well, you know when it is all gone there is more left; don't be modest,
for I shall not mind. The sooner it is finished the better pleased I
Four days later he came again. The old woman was outside her door
cutting up the bread for her soup.
He went up to her and put his face close to hers, so that he might smell
her breath; and when he smelt the alcohol he felt pleased.
"I suppose you will give me a glass of the Special?" he said. And they
had three glasses each.
Soon, however, it began to be whispered abroad that Mother Magloire was
in the habit of getting drunk all by herself. She was picked up in her
kitchen, then in her yard, then in the roads in the neighborhood, and she
was often brought home like a log.
The innkeeper did not go near her any more, and, when people spoke to him
about her, he used to say, putting on a distressed look:
"It is a great pity that she should have taken to drink at her age, but
when people get old there is no remedy. It will be the death of her in
the long run."
And it certainly was the death of her. She died the next winter. About
Christmas time she fell down, unconscious, in the snow, and was found
dead the next morning.
And when Chicot came in for the farm, he said:
"It was very stupid of her; if she had not taken to drink she would
probably have lived ten years longer."
Father Boitelle (Antoine) made a specialty of undertaking dirty jobs all
through the countryside. Whenever there was a ditch or a cesspool to be
cleaned out, a dunghill removed, a sewer cleansed, or any dirt hole
whatever, he way always employed to do it.
He would come with the instruments of his trade, his sabots covered with
dirt, and set to work, complaining incessantly about his occupation.
When people asked him then why he did this loathsome work, he would reply
"Faith, 'tis for my children, whom I must support. This brings me in
more than anything else."
He had, indeed, fourteen children. If any one asked him what had become
of them, he would say with an air of indifference:
"There are only eight of them left in the house. One is out at service
and five are married."
When the questioner wanted to know whether they were well married, he
"I did not oppose them. I opposed them in nothing. They married just as
they pleased. We shouldn't go against people's likings, it turns out
badly. I am a night scavenger because my parents went against my
likings. But for that I would have become a workman like the others."
Here is the way his parents had thwarted him in his likings:
He was at the time a soldier stationed at Havre, not more stupid than
another, or sharper either, a rather simple fellow, however. When he was
not on duty, his greatest pleasure was to walk along the quay, where the
bird dealers congregate. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a soldier from
his own part of the country, he would slowly saunter along by cages
containing parrots with green backs and yellow heads from the banks of
the Amazon, or parrots with gray backs and red heads from Senegal, or
enormous macaws, which look like birds reared in hot-houses, with their
flower-like feathers, their plumes and their tufts. Parrots of every
size, who seem painted with minute care by the miniaturist, God Almighty,
and the little birds, all the smaller birds hopped about, yellow, blue
and variegated, mingling their cries with the noise of the quay; and
adding to the din caused by unloading the vessels, as well as by
passengers and vehicles, a violent clamor, loud, shrill and deafening, as
if from some distant forest of monsters.
Boitelle would pause, with wondering eyes, wide-open mouth, laughing and
enraptured, showing his teeth to the captive cockatoos, who kept nodding
their white or yellow topknots toward the glaring red of his breeches and
the copper buckle of his belt. When he found a bird that could talk he
put questions to it, and if it happened at the time to be disposed to
reply and to hold a conversation with him he would carry away enough
amusement to last him till evening. He also found heaps of amusement in
looking at the monkeys, and could conceive no greater luxury for a rich
man than to own these animals as one owns cats and dogs. This kind of
taste for the exotic he had in his blood, as people have a taste for the
chase, or for medicine, or for the priesthood. He could not help
returning to the quay every time the gates of the barracks opened, drawn
toward it by an irresistible longing.
On one occasion, having stopped almost in ecstasy before an enormous
macaw, which was swelling out its plumes, bending forward and bridling up
again as if making the court curtseys of parrot-land, he saw the door of
a little cafe adjoining the bird dealer's shop open, and a young negress
appeared, wearing on her head a red silk handkerchief. She was sweeping
into the street the corks and sand of the establishment.
Boitelle's attention was soon divided between the bird and the woman, and
he really could not tell which of these two beings he contemplated with
the greater astonishment and delight.
The negress, having swept the rubbish into the street, raised her eyes,
and, in her turn, was dazzled by the soldier's uniform. There she stood
facing him with her broom in her hands as if she were bringing him a
rifle, while the macaw continued bowing. But at the end of a few seconds
the soldier began to feel embarrassed at this attention, and he walked
away quietly so as not to look as if he were beating a retreat.
But he came back. Almost every day he passed before the Cafe des
Colonies, and often he could distinguish through the window the figure of
the little black-skinned maid serving "bocks" or glasses of brandy to the
sailors of the port. Frequently, too, she would come out to the door on
seeing him; soon, without even having exchanged a word, they smiled at
one another like acquaintances; and Boitelle felt his heart touched when
he suddenly saw, glittering between the dark lips of the girl, a shining
row of white teeth. At length, one day he ventured to enter, and was
quite surprised to find that she could speak French like every one else.
The bottle of lemonade, of which she was good enough to accept a
glassful, remained in the soldier's recollection memorably delicious, and
it became a custom with him to come and absorb in this little tavern on
the quay all the agreeable drinks which he could afford.
For him it was a treat, a happiness, on which his thoughts dwelt
constantly, to watch the black hand of the little maid pouring something
into his glass while her teeth laughed more than her eyes. At the end of
two months they became fast friends, and Boitelle, after his first
astonishment at discovering that this negress had as good principles as
honest French girls, that she exhibited a regard for economy, industry,
religion and good conduct, loved her more on that account, and was so
charmed with her that he wanted to marry her.
He told her his intentions, which made her dance with joy. She had also
a little money, left her by, a female oyster dealer, who had picked her
up when she had been left on the quay at Havre by an American captain.
This captain had found her, when she was only about six years old, lying
on bales of cotton in the hold of his ship, some hours after his
departure from New York. On his arrival in Havre he abandoned to the
care of this compassionate oyster dealer the little black creature, who
had been hidden on board his vessel, he knew not why or by whom.
The oyster woman having died, the young negress became a servant at the
Antoine Boitelle added: "This will be all right if my parents don't
oppose it. I will never go against them, you understand, never! I'm
going to say a word or two to them the first time I go back to the
On the following week, in fact, having obtained twenty-four hours' leave,
he went to see his family, who cultivated a little farm at Tourteville,
He waited till the meal was finished, the hour when the coffee baptized
with brandy makes people more open-hearted, before informing his parents
that he had found a girl who satisfied his tastes, all his tastes, so
completely that there could not exist any other in all the world so
perfectly suited to him.
The old people, on hearing this, immediately assumed a cautious manner
and wanted explanations. He had concealed nothing from them except the
color of her skin.
She was a servant, without much means, but strong, thrifty, clean, well-
conducted and sensible. All these things were better than money would be
in the hands of a bad housewife. Moreover, she had a few sous, left her
by a woman who had reared her, a good number of sous, almost a little
dowry, fifteen hundred francs in the savings bank. The old people,
persuaded by his talk, and relying also on their own judgment, were
gradually weakening, when he came to the delicate point. Laughing in
rather a constrained fashion, he said:
"There's only one thing you may not like. She is not a white slip."
They did not understand, and he had to explain at some length and very
cautiously, to avoid shocking them, that she belonged to the dusky race
of which they had only seen samples in pictures at Epinal. Then they
became restless, perplexed, alarmed, as if he had proposed a union with
The mother said: "Black? How much of her is black? Is the whole of
He replied: "Certainly. Everywhere, just as you are white everywhere."
The father interposed: "Black? Is it as black as the pot?"
The son answered: "Perhaps a little less than that. She is black, but
not disgustingly black. The cure's cassock is black, but it is not
uglier than a surplice which is white."
The father said: "Are there more black people besides her in her
And the son, with an air of conviction, exclaimed: "Certainly!"
But the old man shook his head.
"That must be unpleasant."
And the son:
"It isn't more disagreeable than anything else when you get accustomed to
The mother asked:
"It doesn't soil the underwear more than other skins, this black skin?"
"Not more than your own, as it is her proper color."
Then, after many other questions, it was agreed that the parents should
see this girl before coming; to any decision, and that the young fellow,
whose, term of military service would be over in a month, should bring
her to the house in order that they might examine her and decide by
talking the matter over whether or not she was too dark to enter the
Antoine accordingly announced that on Sunday, the 22d of May, the day of
his discharge, he would start for Tourteville with his sweetheart.
She had put on, for this journey to the house of her lover's parents, her
most beautiful and most gaudy clothes, in which yellow, red and blue were
the prevailing colors, so that she looked as if she were adorned for a
At the terminus, as they were leaving Havre, people stared at her, and
Boitelle was proud of giving his arm to a person who commanded so much
attention. Then, in the third-class carriage, in which she took a seat
by his side, she aroused so much astonishment among the country folks
that the people in the adjoining compartments stood up on their benches
to look at her over the wooden partition which divides the compartments.
A child, at sight of her, began to cry with terror, another concealed his
face in his mother's apron. Everything went off well, however, up to
their arrival at their destination. But when the train slackened its
rate of motion as they drew near Yvetot, Antoine felt: ill at ease, as he
would have done at a review when; he did not know his drill practice.
Then, as he; leaned his head out, he recognized in the distance: his
father, holding the bridle of the horse harnessed to a carryall, and his
mother, who had come forward to the grating, behind which stood those who
were expecting friends.
He alighted first, gave his hand to his sweetheart, and holding himself
erect, as if he were escorting a general, he went to meet his family.
The mother, on seeing this black lady in variegated costume in her son's
company, remained so stupefied that she could not open her mouth; and the
father found it hard to hold the horse, which the engine or the negress
caused to rear continuously. But Antoine, suddenly filled with unmixed
joy at seeing once more the old people, rushed forward with open arms,
embraced his mother, embraced his father, in spite of the nag's fright,
and then turning toward his companion, at whom the passengers on the
platform stopped to stare with amazement, he proceeded to explain:
"Here she is! I told you that, at first sight, she is not attractive;
but as soon as you know her, I can assure you there's not a better sort
in the whole world. Say good-morning to her so that she may not feel
Thereupon Mere Boitelle, almost frightened out of her wits, made a sort
of curtsy, while the father took off his cap, murmuring:
"I wish you good luck!"
Then, without further delay, they climbed into the carryall, the two
women at the back, on seats which made them jump up and down as the
vehicle went jolting along the road, and the two men in front on the
Nobody spoke. Antoine, ill at ease, whistled a barrack-room air; his
father whipped the nag; and his mother, from where she sat in the corner,
kept casting sly glances at the negress, whose forehead and cheekbones
shone in the sunlight like well-polished shoes.
Wishing to break the ice, Antoine turned round.
"Well," said he, "we don't seem inclined to talk."
"We must have time," replied the old woman.
He went on:
"Come! Tell us the little story about that hen of yours that laid eight
It was a funny anecdote of long standing in the family. But, as his
mother still remained silent, paralyzed by her emotion, he undertook
himself to tell the story, laughing as he did so at the memorable
incident. The father, who knew it by heart brightened at the opening
words of the narrative; his wife soon followed his example; and the
negress herself, when he reached the drollest part of it, suddenly gave
vent to a laugh, such a loud, rolling torrent of laughter that the horse,
becoming excited, broke into a gallop for a while.
This served to cement their acquaintance. They all began to chat.
They had scarcely reached the house and had all alighted, when Antoine
conducted his sweetheart to a room, so that she might take off her dress,
to avoid staining it, as she was going to prepare a nice dish, intended
to win the old people's affections through their stomachs. He drew his
parents outside the house, and, with beating heart, asked:
"Well, what do you say now?"
The father said nothing. The mother, less timid, exclaimed:
"She is too black. No, indeed, this is too much for me. It turns my
"You will get used to it," said Antoine.
"Perhaps so, but not at first."
They went into the house, where the good woman was somewhat affected at
the spectacle of the negress engaged in cooking. She at once proceeded
to assist her, with petticoats tucked up, active in spite of her age.
The meal was an excellent one, very long, very enjoyable. When they were
taking a turn after dinner, Antoine took his father aside.
"Well, dad, what do you say about it?"
The peasant took care never to compromise himself.
"I have no opinion about it. Ask your mother."
So Antoine went back to his mother, and, detaining her behind the rest,
"Well, mother, what do you think of her?"
"My poor lad, she is really too black. If she were only a little less
black, I would not go against you, but this is too much. One would think
it was Satan!"
He did not press her, knowing how obstinate the old woman had always
been, but he felt a tempest of disappointment sweeping over his heart.
He was turning over in his mind what he ought to do, what plan he could
devise, surprised, moreover, that she had not conquered them already as
she had captivated himself. And they, all four, walked along through the
wheat fields, having gradually relapsed into silence. Whenever they
passed a fence they saw a countryman sitting on the stile, and a group of
brats climbed up to stare at them, and every one rushed out into the road
to see the "black" whore young Boitelle had brought home with him. At a
distance they noticed people scampering across the fields just as when
the drum beats to draw public attention to some living phenomenon. Pere
and Mere Boitelle, alarmed at this curiosity, which was exhibited
everywhere through the country at their approach, quickened their pace,
walking side by side, and leaving their son far behind. His dark
companion asked what his parents thought of her.
He hesitatingly replied that they had not yet made up their minds.
But on the village green people rushed out of all the houses in a flutter
of excitement; and, at the sight of the gathering crowd, old Boitelle
took to his heels, and regained his abode, while Antoine; swelling with
rage, his sweetheart on his arm, advanced majestically under the staring
eyes, which opened wide in amazement.
He understood that it was at an end, and there was no hope for him, that
he could not marry his negress. She also understood it; and as they drew
near the farmhouse they both began to weep. As soon as they had got back
to the house, she once more took off her dress to aid the mother in the
household duties, and followed her everywhere, to the dairy, to the
stable, to the hen house, taking on herself the hardest part of the work,
repeating always: "Let me do it, Madame Boitelle," so that, when night
came on, the old woman, touched but inexorable, said to her son: "She is
a good girl, all the same. It's a pity she is so black; but indeed she
is too black. I could not get used to it. She must go back again. She
is too, too black!"
And young Boitelle said to his sweetheart:
"She will not consent. She thinks you are too black. You must go back
again. I will go with you to the train. No matter--don't fret. I am
going to talk to them after you have started."
He then took her to the railway station, still cheering her with hope,
and, when he had kissed her, he put her into the train, which he watched
as it passed out of sight, his eyes swollen with tears.
In vain did he appeal to the old people. They would never give their
And when he had told this story, which was known all over the country,
Antoine Boitelle would always add:
"From that time forward I have had no heart for anything--for anything at
all. No trade suited me any longer, and so I became what I am--a night
People would say to him:
"Yet you got married."
"Yes, and I can't say that my wife didn't please me, seeing that I have
fourteen children; but she is not the other one, oh, no--certainly not!
The other one, mark you, my negress, she had only to give me one glance,
and I felt as if I were in Heaven."
This story was told during the hunting season at the Chateau Baneville.
The autumn had been rainy and sad. The red leaves, instead of rustling
under the feet, were rotting under the heavy downfalls.
The forest was as damp as it could be. From it came an odor of must, of
rain, of soaked grass and wet earth; and the sportsmen, their backs
hunched under the downpour, mournful dogs, with tails between their legs
and hairs sticking to their sides, and the young women, with their
clothes drenched, returned every evening, tired in body and in mind.
After dinner, in the large drawing-room, everybody played lotto, without
enjoyment, while the wind whistled madly around the house. Then they
tried telling stories like those they read in books, but no one was able
to invent anything amusing. The hunters told tales of wonderful shots
and of the butchery of rabbits; and the women racked their brains for
ideas without revealing the imagination of Scheherezade. They were about
to give up this diversion when a young woman, who was idly caressing the
hand of an old maiden aunt, noticed a little ring made of blond hair,
which she had often seen, without paying any attention to it.
She fingered it gently and asked, "Auntie, what is this ring? It looks
as if it were made from the hair of a child."
The old lady blushed, grew pale, then answered in a trembling voice: "It
is sad, so sad that I never wish to speak of it. All the unhappiness of
my life comes from that. I was very young then, and the memory has
remained so painful that I weep every time I think of it."
Immediately everybody wished to know the story, but the old lady refused
to tell it. Finally, after they had coaxed her for a long time, she
yielded. Here is the story:
"You have often heard me speak of the Santeze family, now extinct. I
knew the last three male members of this family. They all died in the
same manner; this hair belongs to the last one. He was thirteen when he
killed himself for me. That seems strange to you, doesn't it?
"Oh! it was a strange family--mad, if you will, but a charming madness,
the madness of love. From father to son, all had violent passions which
filled their whole being, which impelled them to do wild things, drove
them to frantic enthusiasm, even to crime. This was born in them, just
as burning devotion is in certain souls. Trappers have not the same
nature as minions of the drawing-room. There was a saying: 'As
passionate as a Santeze.' This could be noticed by looking at them.
They all had wavy hair, falling over their brows, curly beards and large
eyes whose glance pierced and moved one, though one could not say why.
"The grandfather of the owner of this hair, of whom it is the last
souvenir, after many adventures, duels and elopements, at about sixty-
five fell madly in love with his farmer's daughter. I knew them both.
She was blond, pale, distinguished-looking, with a slow manner of
talking, a quiet voice and a look so gentle that one might have taken her
for a Madonna. The old nobleman took her to his home and was soon so
captivated with her that he could not live without her for a minute.
His daughter and daughter-in-law, who lived in the chateau, found this
perfectly natural, love was such a tradition in the family. Nothing in
regard to a passion surprised them, and if one spoke before them of
parted lovers, even of vengeance after treachery, both said in the same
sad tone: 'Oh, how he must have suffered to come to that point!' That was
all. They grew sad over tragedies of love, but never indignant, even
when they were criminal.
"Now, one day a young man named Monsieur de Gradelle, who had been
invited for the shooting, eloped with the young girl.
"Monsieur de Santeze remained calm as if nothing had happened, but one
morning he was found hanging in the kennels, among his dogs.
"His son died in the same manner in a hotel in Paris during a journey
which he made there in 1841, after being deceived by a singer from the
"He left a twelve-year-old child and a widow, my mother's sister. She
came to my father's house with the boy, while we were living at
Bertillon. I was then seventeen.
"You have no idea how wonderful and precocious this Santeze child was.
One might have thought that all the tenderness and exaltation of the
whole race had been stored up in this last one. He was always dreaming
and walking about alone in a great alley of elms leading from the chateau
to the forest. I watched from my window this sentimental boy, who walked
with thoughtful steps, his hands behind his back, his head bent, and at
times stopping to raise his eyes as if he could see and understand things
that were not comprehensible at his age.
"Often, after dinner on clear evenings, he would say to me: 'Let us go
outside and dream, cousin.' And we would go outside together in the
park. He would stop quickly before a clearing where the white vapor of
the moon lights the woods, and he would press my hand, saying: 'Look!
look! but you don't understand me; I feel it. If you understood me, we
should be happy. One must love to know! I would laugh and then kiss
this child, who loved me madly.
"Often, after dinner, he would sit on my mother's knees. 'Come, auntie,'
he would say, 'tell me some love-stories.' And my mother, as a joke,
would tell him all the old legends of the family, all the passionate
adventures of his forefathers, for thousands of them were current, some
true and some false. It was their reputation for love and gallantry
which was the ruin of every one of these-men; they gloried in it and then
thought that they had to live up to the renown of their house.
"The little fellow became exalted by these tender or terrible stories,
and at times he would clap his hands, crying: 'I, too, I, too, know how
to love, better than all of them!'
"Then, he began to court me in a timid and tender manner, at which every
one laughed, it was, so amusing. Every morning I had some flowers picked
by him, and every evening before going to his room he would kiss my hand
and murmur: 'I love you!'
"I was guilty, very guilty, and I grieved continually about it, and I
have been doing penance all my life; I have remained an old maid--or,
rather, I have lived as a widowed fiancee, his widow.
"I was amused at this childish tenderness, and I even encouraged him.
I was coquettish, as charming as with a man, alternately caressing and
severe. I maddened this child. It was a game for me and a joyous
diversion for his mother and mine. He was twelve! think of it! Who
would have taken this atom's passion seriously? I kissed him as often as
he wished; I even wrote him little notes, which were read by our
respective mothers; and he answered me by passionate letters, which I
have kept. Judging himself as a man, he thought that our loving intimacy
was secret. We had forgotten that he was a Santeze.
"This lasted for about a year. One evening in the park he fell at my
feet and, as he madly kissed the hem of my dress, he kept repeating: 'I
love you! I love you! I love you! If ever you deceive me, if ever you
leave me for another, I'll do as my father did.' And he added in a
hoarse voice, which gave me a shiver: 'You know what he did!'
"I stood there astonished. He arose, and standing on the tips of his
toes in order to reach my ear, for I was taller than he, he pronounced my
first name: 'Genevieve!' in such a gentle, sweet, tender tone that I
trembled all over. I stammered: 'Let us return! let us return!' He said
no more and followed me; but as we were going up the steps of the porch,
he stopped me, saying: 'You know, if ever you leave me, I'll kill
"This time I understood that I had gone too far, and I became quite
reserved. One day, as he was reproaching me for this, I answered: 'You
are now too old for jesting and too young for serious love. I'll wait.'
"I thought that this would end the matter. In the autumn he was sent to
a boarding-school. When he returned the following summer I was engaged
to be married. He understood immediately, and for a week he became so
pensive that I was quite anxious.
"On the morning of the ninth day I saw a little paper under my door as I
got up. I seized it, opened it and read: 'You have deserted me and you
know what I said. It is death to which you have condemned me. As I do
not wish to be found by another than you, come to the park just where I
told you last year that I loved you and look in the air.'
"I thought that I should go mad. I dressed as quickly as I could and ran
wildly to the place that he had mentioned. His little cap was on the
ground in the mud. It had been raining all night. I raised my eyes and
saw something swinging among the leaves, for the wind was blowing a gale.
"I don't know what I did after that. I must have screamed at first, then
fainted and fallen, and finally have run to the chateau. The next thing
that I remember I was in bed, with my mother sitting beside me.
"I thought that I had dreamed all this in a frightful nightmare.
I stammered: 'And what of him, what of him, Gontran?' There was no
answer. It was true!
"I did not dare see him again, but I asked for a lock of his blond hair.
Here--here it is!"
And the old maid stretched out her trembling hand in a despairing
gesture. Then she blew her nose several times, wiped her eyes and
"I broke off my marriage--without saying why. And I--I always have
remained the--the widow of this thirteen-year-old boy." Then her head
fell on her breast and she wept for a long time.
As the guests were retiring for the night a large man, whose quiet she
had disturbed, whispered in his neighbor's ear: "Isn't it unfortunate to,
be so sentimental?"
THE ENGLISHMAN OF ETRETAT
A great English poet has just crossed over to France in order to greet
Victor Hugo. All the newspapers are full of his name and he is the great
topic of conversation in all drawing-rooms. Fifteen years ago I had
occasion several times to meet Algernon Charles Swinburne. I will
attempt to show him just as I saw him and to give an idea of the strange
impression he made on me, which will remain with me throughout time.
I believe it was in 1867 or in 1868 that an unknown young Englishman came
to Etretat and bought a little but hidden under great trees. It was said
that he lived there, always alone, in a strange manner; and he aroused
the inimical surprise of the natives, for the inhabitants were sullen and
foolishly malicious, as they always are in little towns.
They declared that this whimsical Englishman ate nothing but boiled.
roasted or stewed monkey; that he would see no one; that he talked to
himself hours at a time and many other surprising things that made people
think that he was different from other men. They were surprised that he
should live alone with a monkey. Had it been a cat or a dog they would
have said nothing. But a monkey! Was that not frightful? What savage
tastes the man must have!
I knew this young man only from seeing him in the streets. He was short,
plump, without being fat, mild-looking, and he wore a little blond
mustache, which was almost invisible.
Chance brought us together. This savage had amiable and pleasing
manners, but he was one of those strange Englishmen that one meets here
and there throughout the world.
Endowed with remarkable intelligence, he seemed to live in a fantastic
dream, as Edgar Poe must have lived. He had translated into English a
volume of strange Icelandic legends, which I ardently desired to see
translated into French. He loved the supernatural, the dismal and
grewsome, but he spoke of the most marvellous things with a calmness that
was typically English, to which his gentle and quiet voice gave a
semblance of reality that was maddening.
Full of a haughty disdain for the world, with its conventions, prejudices
and code of morality, he had nailed to his house a name that was boldly
impudent. The keeper of a lonely inn who should write on his door:
"Travellers murdered here!" could not make a more sinister jest. I never
had entered his dwelling, when one day I received an invitation to
luncheon, following an accident that had occurred to one of his friends,
who had been almost drowned and whom I had attempted to rescue.
Although I was unable to reach the man until he had already been rescued,
I received the hearty thanks of the two Englishmen, and the following day
I called upon them.
The friend was a man about thirty years old. He bore an enormous head on
a child's body--a body without chest or shoulders. An immense forehead,
which seemed to have engulfed the rest of the man, expanded like a dome
above a thin face which ended in a little pointed beard. Two sharp eyes
and a peculiar mouth gave one the impression of the head of a reptile,
while the magnificent brow suggested a genius.
A nervous twitching shook this peculiar being, who walked, moved, acted
by jerks like a broken spring.
This was Algernon Charles Swinburne, son of an English admiral and
grandson, on the maternal side, of the Earl of Ashburnham.
He strange countenance was transfigured when he spoke. I have seldom
seen a man more impressive, more eloquent, incisive or charming in
conversation. His rapid, clear, piercing and fantastic imagination
seemed to creep into his voice and to lend life to his words. His
brusque gestures enlivened his speech, which penetrated one like a
dagger, and he had bursts of thought, just as lighthouses throw out
flashes of fire, great, genial lights that seemed to illuminate a whole
world of ideas.
The home of the two friends was pretty and by no means commonplace.
Everywhere were paintings, some superb, some strange, representing
different conceptions of insanity. Unless I am mistaken, there was a
water-color which represented the head of a dead man floating in a rose-
colored shell on a boundless ocean, under a moon with a human face.
Here and there I came across bones. I clearly remember a flayed hand on
which was hanging some dried skin and black muscles, and on the snow-
white bones could be seen the traces of dried blood.
The food was a riddle which I could not solve. Was it good? Was it bad?
I could not say. Some roast monkey took away all desire to make a steady
diet of this animal, and the great monkey who roamed about among us at
large and playfully pushed his head into my glass when I wished to drink
cured me of any desire I might have to take one of his brothers as a
companion for the rest of my days.
As for the two men, they gave me the impression of two strange, original,
remarkable minds, belonging to that peculiar race of talented madmen from
among whom have arisen Poe, Hoffmann and many others.
If genius is, as is commonly believed, a sort of aberration of great
minds, then Algernon Charles Swinburne is undoubtedly a genius.
Great minds that are healthy are never considered geniuses, while this
sublime qualification is lavished on brains that are often inferior but
are slightly touched by madness.
At any rate, this poet remains one of the first of his time, through his
originality and polished form. He is an exalted lyrical singer who
seldom bothers about the good and humble truth, which French poets are
now seeking so persistently and patiently. He strives to set down
dreams, subtle thoughts, sometimes great, sometimes visibly forced, but
Two years later I found the house closed and its tenants gone. The
furniture was being sold. In memory of them I bought the hideous flayed
hand. On the grass an enormous square block of granite bore this simple
word: "Nip." Above this a hollow stone offered water to the birds. It
was the grave of the monkey, who had been hanged by a young, vindictive
negro servant. It was said that this violent domestic had been forced to
flee at the point of his exasperated master's revolver. After wandering
about without home or food for several days, he returned and began to
peddle barley-sugar in the streets. He was expelled from the country
after he had almost strangled a displeased customer.
The world would be gayer if one could often meet homes like that.
This story appeared in the "Gaulois," November 29, 1882. It was the
original sketch for the introductory study of Swinburne, written by
Maupassant for the French translation by Gabriel Mourey of "Poems
It was a men's dinner party, and they were sitting over their cigars and
brandy and discussing magnetism. Donato's tricks and Charcot's
experiments. Presently, the sceptical, easy-going men, who cared nothing
for religion of any sort, began telling stories of strange occurrences,
incredible things which, nevertheless, had really occurred, so they said,
falling back into superstitious beliefs, clinging to these last remnants
of the marvellous, becoming devotees of this mystery of magnetism,
defending it in the name of science. There was only one person who
smiled, a vigorous young fellow, a great ladies' man who was so
incredulous that he would not even enter upon a discussion of such
He repeated with a sneer:
"Humbug! humbug! humbug! We need not discuss Donato, who is merely a
very smart juggler. As for M. Charcot, who is said to be a remarkable
man of science, he produces on me the effect of those story-tellers of
the school of Edgar Poe, who end by going mad through constantly
reflecting on queer cases of insanity. He has authenticated some cases
of unexplained and inexplicable nervous phenomena; he makes his way into
that unknown region which men are exploring every day, and unable always
to understand what he sees, he recalls, perhaps, the ecclesiastical
interpretation of these mysteries. I should like to hear what he says
The words of the unbeliever were listened to with a kind of pity, as if
he had blasphemed in an assembly of monks.
One of these gentlemen exclaimed:
"And yet miracles were performed in olden times."
"I deny it," replied the other: "Why cannot they be performed now?"
Then, each mentioned some fact, some fantastic presentiment some instance
of souls communicating with each other across space, or some case of the
secret influence of one being over another. They asserted and maintained
that these things had actually occurred, while the sceptic angrily
"Humbug! humbug! humbug!"
At last he rose, threw away his cigar, and with his hands in his pockets,
said: "Well, I also have two stories to tell you, which I will afterwards
explain. Here they are:
"In the little village of Etretat, the men, who are all seafaring folk,
go every year to Newfoundland to fish for cod. One night the little son
of one of these fishermen woke up with a start, crying out that his
father was dead. The child was quieted, and again he woke up exclaiming
that his father was drowned. A month later the news came that his father
had, in fact, been swept off the deck of his smack by a billow. The
widow then remembered how her son had woke up and spoken of his father's
death. Everyone said it was a miracle, and the affair caused a great
sensation. The dates were compared, and it was found that the accident
and the dream were almost coincident, whence they concluded that they had
happened on the same night and at the same hour. And there is a mystery
The story-teller stopped suddenly.
Thereupon, one of those who had heard him, much affected by the
"And can you explain this?"
"Perfectly, monsieur. I have discovered the secret. The circumstance
surprised me and even perplexed me very much; but you see, I do not
believe on principle. Just as others begin by believing, I begin by
doubting; and when I cannot understand, I continue to deny that there can
be any telepathic communication between souls; certain that my own
intelligence will be able to explain it. Well, I kept on inquiring into
the matter, and by dint of questioning all the wives of the absent
seamen, I was convinced that not a week passed without one of them, or
one of their children dreaming and declaring when they woke up that the
father was drowned. The horrible and continual fear of this accident
makes them always talk about it. Now, if one of these frequent
predictions coincides, by a very simple chance, with the death of the
person referred to, people at once declare it to be a miracle; for they
suddenly lose sight of all the other predictions of misfortune that have
remained unfulfilled. I have myself known fifty cases where the persons
who made the prediction forgot all about it a week after wards. But, if,
then one happens to die, then the recollection of the thing is
immediately revived, and people are ready to believe in the intervention
of God, according to some, and magnetism, according to others."
One of the smokers remarked:
"What you say is right enough; but what about your second story?"
"Oh! my second story is a very delicate matter to relate. It happened
to myself, and so I don't place any great value on my own view of the
matter. An interested party can never give an impartial opinion.
However, here it is:
"Among my acquaintances was a young woman on whom I had never bestowed a
thought, whom I had never even looked at attentively, never taken any
"I classed her among the women of no importance, though she was not bad-
looking; she appeared, in fact, to possess eyes, a nose, a mouth, some
sort of hair--just a colorless type of countenance. She was one of those
beings who awaken only a chance, passing thought, but no special
interest, no desire.
"Well, one night, as I was writing some letters by my fireside before
going to bed, I was conscious, in the midst of that train of sensuous
visions that sometimes pass through one's brain in moments of idle
reverie, of a kind of slight influence, passing over me, a little flutter
of the heart, and immediately, without any cause, without any logical
connection of thought, I saw distinctly, as if I were touching her, saw
from head to foot, and disrobed, this young woman to whom I had never
given more that three seconds' thought at a time. I suddenly discovered
in her a number of qualities which I had never before observed, a sweet
charm, a languorous fascination; she awakened in me that sort of restless
emotion that causes one to pursue a woman. But I did not think of her
long. I went to bed and was soon asleep. And I dreamed.
"You have all had these strange dreams which make you overcome the
impossible, which open to you double-locked doors, unexpected joys,
tightly folded arms?
"Which of us in these troubled, excising, breathless slumbers, has not
held, clasped, embraced with rapture, the woman who occupied his
thoughts? And have you ever noticed what superhuman delight these happy
dreams give us? Into what mad intoxication they cast you! with what
passionate spasms they shake you! and with what infinite, caressing,
penetrating tenderness they fill your heart for her whom you hold clasped
in your arms in that adorable illusion that is so like reality!
"All this I felt with unforgettable violence. This woman was mine, so
much mine that the pleasant warmth of her skin remained in my fingers,
the odor of her skin, in my brain, the taste of her kisses, on my lips,
the sound of her voice lingered in my ears, the touch of her clasp still
clung to me, and the burning charm of her tenderness still gratified my
senses long after the delight but disillusion of my awakening.
"And three times that night I had the same dream.
"When the day dawned she haunted me, possessed me, filled my senses to
such an extent that I was not one second without thinking of her.
"At last, not knowing what to do, I dressed myself and went to call on
her. As I went upstairs to her apartment, I was so overcome by emotion
that I trembled, and my heart beat rapidly.
"I entered the apartment. She rose the moment she heard my name
mentioned; and suddenly our eyes met in a peculiar fixed gaze.
"I sat down. I stammered out some commonplaces which she seemed not to
hear. I did not know what to say or do. Then, abruptly, clasping my
arms round her, my dream was realized so suddenly that I began to doubt
whether I was really awake. We were friends after this for two years."
"What conclusion do you draw from it?" said a voice.
The story-teller seemed to hesitate.
"The conclusion I draw from it--well, by Jove, the conclusion is that it
was just a coincidence! And then--who can tell? Perhaps it was some
glance of hers which I had not noticed and which came back that night to
me through one of those mysterious and unconscious--recollections that
often bring before us things ignored by our own consciousness,
unperceived by our minds!"
"Call it whatever you like," said one of his table companions, when the
story was finished; "but if you don't believe in magnetism after that, my
dear boy, you are an ungrateful fellow!"
A FATHER'S CONFESSION
All Veziers-le-Rethel had followed the funeral procession of M. Badon-
Leremince to the grave, and the last words of the funeral oration
pronounced by the delegate of the district remained in the minds of all:
"He was an honest man, at least!"
An honest man he had been in all the known acts of his life, in his
words, in his examples, his attitude, his behavior, his enterprises, in
the cut of his beard and the shape of his hats. He never had said a word
that did not set an example, never had given an alms without adding a
word of advice, never had extended his hand without appearing to bestow a
He left two children, a boy and a girl. His son was counselor general,
and his daughter, having married a lawyer, M. Poirel de la Voulte, moved
in the best society of Veziers.
They were inconsolable at the death of their father, for they loved him
As soon as the ceremony was over, the son, daughter and son-in-law
returned to the house of mourning, and, shutting themselves in the
library, they opened the will, the seals of which were to be broken by
them alone and only after the coffin had been placed in the ground.
This wish was expressed by a notice on the envelope.
M. Poirel de la Voulte tore open the envelope, in his character of a
lawyer used to such operations, and having adjusted his spectacles, he
read in a monotonous voice, made for reading the details of contracts:
My children, my dear children, I could not sleep the eternal sleep
in peace if I did not make to you from the tomb a confession, the
confession of a crime, remorse for which has ruined my life. Yes,
I committed a crime, a frightful, abominable crime.
I was twenty-six years old, and I had just been called to the bar in
Paris, and was living the life off young men from the provinces who
are stranded in this town without acquaintances, relatives, or
I took a sweetheart. There are beings who cannot live alone. I was
one of those. Solitude fills me with horrible anguish, the solitude
of my room beside my fire in the evening. I feel then as if I were
alone on earth, alone, but surrounded by vague dangers, unknown and
terrible things; and the partition that separates me from my
neighbor, my neighbor whom I do not know, keeps me at as great a
distance from him as the stars that I see through my window. A sort
of fever pervades me, a fever of impatience and of fear, and the
silence of the walls terrifies me. The silence of a room where one
lives alone is so intense and so melancholy It is not only a silence
of the mind; when a piece of furniture cracks a shudder goes through
you for you expect no noise in this melancholy abode.
How many times, nervous and timid from this motionless silence, I
have begun to talk, to repeat words without rhyme or reason, only to
make some sound. My voice at those times sounds so strange that I
am afraid of that, too. Is there anything more dreadful than
talking to one's self in an empty house? One's voice sounds like
that of another, an unknown voice talking aimlessly, to no one, into
the empty air, with no ear to listen to it, for one knows before
they escape into the solitude of the room exactly what words will be
uttered. And when they resound lugubriously in the silence, they
seem no more than an echo, the peculiar echo of words whispered by
My sweetheart was a young girl like other young girls who live in
Paris on wages that are insufficient to keep them. She was gentle,
good, simple. Her parents lived at Poissy. She went to spend
several days with them from time to time.
For a year I lived quietly with her, fully decided to leave her when
I should find some one whom I liked well enough to marry. I would
make a little provision for this one, for it is an understood thing
in our social set that a woman's love should be paid for, in money
if she is poor, in presents if she is rich.
But one day she told me she was enceinte. I was thunderstruck, and
saw in a second that my life would be ruined. I saw the fetter that
I should wear until my death, everywhere, in my future family life,
in my old age, forever; the fetter of a woman bound to my life
through a child; the fetter of the child whom I must bring up, watch
over, protect, while keeping myself unknown to him, and keeping him
hidden from the world.
I was greatly disturbed at this news, and a confused longing, a
criminal desire, surged through my mind; I did not formulate it, but
I felt it in my heart, ready to come to the surface, as if some one
hidden behind a portiere should await the signal to come out. If
some accident might only happen! So many of these little beings die
before they are born!
Oh! I did not wish my sweetheart to die! The poor girl, I loved
her very much! But I wished, possibly, that the child might die
before I saw it.
He was born. I set up housekeeping in my little bachelor apartment,
an imitation home, with a horrible child. He looked like all
children; I did not care for him. Fathers, you see, do not show
affection until later. They have not the instinctive and passionate
tenderness of mothers; their affection has to be awakened gradually,
their mind must become attached by bonds formed each day between
beings that live in each other's society.
A year passed. I now avoided my home, which was too small, where
soiled linen, baby-clothes and stockings the size of gloves were
lying round, where a thousand articles of all descriptions lay on
the furniture, on the arm of an easy-chair, everywhere. I went out
chiefly that I might not hear the child cry, for he cried on the
slightest pretext, when he was bathed, when he was touched, when he
was put to bed, when he was taken up in the morning, incessantly.
I had made a few acquaintances, and I met at a reception the woman
who was to be your mother. I fell in love with her and became
desirous to marry her. I courted her; I asked her parents' consent
to our marriage and it was granted.
I found myself in this dilemma: I must either marry this young girl
whom I adored, having a child already, or else tell the truth and
renounce her, and happiness, my future, everything; for her parents,
who were people of rigid principles, would not give her to me if
I passed a month of horrible anguish, of mortal torture, a month
haunted by a thousand frightful thoughts; and I felt developing in
me a hatred toward my son, toward that little morsel of living,
screaming flesh, who blocked my path, interrupted my life, condemned
me to an existence without hope, without all those vague
expectations that make the charm of youth.
But just then my companion's mother became ill, and I was left alone
with the child.
It was in December, and the weather was terribly cold. What a
My companion had just left. I had dined alone in my little dining-
room and I went gently into the room where the little one was
I sat down in an armchair before the fire. The wind was blowing,
making the windows rattle, a dry, frosty wind; and I saw trough the
window the stars shining with that piercing brightness that they
have on frosty nights.
Then the idea that had obsessed me for a month rose again to the
surface. As soon as I was quiet it came to me and harassed me. It
ate into my mind like a fixed idea, just as cancers must eat into
the flesh. It was there, in my head, in my heart, in my whole body,
it seemed to me; and it swallowed me up as a wild beast might have.
I endeavored to drive it away, to repulse it, to open my mind to
other thoughts, as one opens a window to the fresh morning breeze to
drive out the vitiated air; but I could not drive it from my brain,
not even for a second. I do not know how to express this torture.
It gnawed at my soul, and I felt a frightful pain, a real physical
and moral pain.
My life was ruined! How could I escape from this situation? How
could I draw back, and how could I confess?
And I loved the one who was to become your mother with a mad
passion, which this insurmountable obstacle only aggravated.
A terrible rage was taking possession of me, choking me, a rage that
verged on madness! Surely I was crazy that evening!
The child was sleeping. I got up and looked at it as it slept. It
was he, this abortion, this spawn, this nothing, that condemned me
to irremediable unhappiness!
He was asleep, his mouth open, wrapped in his bed-clothes in a crib
beside my bed, where I could not sleep.
How did I ever do what I did? How do I know? What force urged me
on? What malevolent power took possession of me? Oh! the
temptation to crime came to me without any forewarning. All I
recall is that my heart beat tumultuously. It beat so hard that I
could hear it, as one hears the strokes of a hammer behind a
partition. That is all I can recall--the beating of my heart!
In my head there was a strange confusion, a tumult, a senseless
disorder, a lack of presence of mind. It was one of those hours of
bewilderment and hallucination when a man is neither conscious of
his actions nor able to guide his will.
I gently raised the coverings from the body of the child; I turned
them down to the foot of the crib, and he lay there uncovered and
He did not wake. Then I went toward the window, softly, quite
softly, and I opened it.
A breath of icy air glided in like an assassin; it was so cold that
I drew aside, and the two candles flickered. I remained standing
near the window, not daring to turn round, as if for fear of seeing
what was doing on behind me, and feeling the icy air continually
across my forehead, my cheeks, my hands, the deadly air which kept
streaming in. I stood there a long time.
I was not thinking, I was not reflecting. All at once a little
cough caused me to shudder frightfully from head to foot, a shudder
that I feel still to the roots of my hair. And with a frantic
movement I abruptly closed both sides of the window and, turning
round, ran over to the crib.
He was still asleep, his mouth open, quite naked. I touched his
legs; they were icy cold and I covered them up.
My heart was suddenly touched, grieved, filled with pity,
tenderness, love for this poor innocent being that I had wished to
kill. I kissed his fine, soft hair long and tenderly; then I went
and sat down before the fire.
I reflected with amazement with horror on what I had done, asking
myself whence come those tempests of the soul in which a man loses
all perspective of things, all command over himself and acts as in a
condition of mad intoxication, not knowing whither he is going--like
a vessel in a hurricane.
The child coughed again, and it gave my heart a wrench. Suppose it
should die! O God! O God! What would become of me?
I rose from my chair to go and look at him, and with a candle in my
hand I leaned over him. Seeing him breathing quietly I felt
reassured, when he coughed a third time. It gave me such a shock
tat I started backward, just as one does at sight of something
horrible, and let my candle fall.
As I stood erect after picking it up, I noticed that my temples were
bathed in perspiration, that cold sweat which is the result of
anguish of soul. And I remained until daylight bending over my son,
becoming calm when he remained quiet for some time, and filled with
atrocious pain when a weak cough came from his mouth.
He awoke with his eyes red, his throat choked, and with an air of
When the woman came in to arrange my room I sent her at once for a
doctor. He came at the end of an hour, and said, after examining
"Did he not catch cold?"
I began to tremble like a person with palsy, and I faltered:
"No, I do not think so."
And then I said:
"What is the matter? Is it serious?"
"I do not know yet," he replied. "I will come again this evening."
He came that evening. My son had remained almost all day in a
condition of drowsiness, coughing from time to time. During the
night inflammation of the lungs set in.
That lasted ten days. I cannot express what I suffered in those
interminable hours that divide morning from night, right from
And since--since that moment, I have not passed one hour, not a
single hour, without the frightful burning recollection, a gnawing
recollection, a memory that seems to wring my heart, awaking in me
like a savage beast imprisoned in the depth of my soul.
Oh! if I could have gone mad!
M. Poirel de la Voulte raised his spectacles with a motion that was
peculiar to him whenever he finished reading a contract; and the three
heirs of the defunct looked at one another without speaking, pale and
At the end of a minute the lawyer resumed:
"That must be destroyed."
The other two bent their heads in sign of assent. He lighted a candle,
carefully separated the pages containing the damaging confession from
those relating to the disposition of money, then he held them over the
candle and threw them into the fireplace.
And they watched the white sheets as they burned, till they were
presently reduced to little crumbling black heaps. And as some words
were still visible in white tracing, the daughter, with little strokes of
the toe of her shoe, crushed the burning paper, mixing it with the old
ashes in the fireplace.
Then all three stood there watching it for some time, as if they feared
that the destroyed secret might escape from the fireplace.
A MOTHER OF MONSTERS
I recalled this horrible story, the events of which occurred long ago,
and this horrible woman, the other day at a fashionable seaside resort,
where I saw on the beach a well-known young, elegant and charming
Parisienne, adored and respected by everyone.
I had been invited by a friend to pay him a visit in a little provincial
town. He took me about in all directions to do the honors of the place,
showed me noted scenes, chateaux, industries, ruins. He pointed out
monuments, churches, old carved doorways, enormous or distorted trees,
the oak of St. Andrew, and the yew tree of Roqueboise.
When I had exhausted my admiration and enthusiasm over all the sights,
my friend said with a distressed expression on his face, that there was
nothing left to look at. I breathed freely. I would now be able to rest
under the shade of the trees. But, all at once, he uttered an
"Oh, yes! We have the 'Mother of Monsters'; I must take you to see her."
"Who is that, the 'Mother of Monsters'?" I asked.
"She is an abominable woman," he replied, "a regular demon, a being who
voluntarily brings into the world deformed, hideous, frightful children,
monstrosities, in fact, and then sells them to showmen who exhibit such
"These exploiters of freaks come from time to time to find out if she has
any fresh monstrosity, and if it meets with their approval they carry it
away with them, paying the mother a compensation.
"She has eleven of this description. She is rich.
"You think I am joking, romancing, exaggerating. No, my friend; I am
telling you the truth, the exact truth.
"Let us go and see this woman. Then I will tell you her history."
He took me into one of the suburbs. The woman lived in a pretty little
house by the side of the road. It was attractive and well kept. The
garden was filled with fragrant flowers. One might have supposed it to
be the residence of a retired lawyer.
A maid ushered us into a sort of little country parlor, and the wretch
appeared. She was about forty. She was a tall, big woman with hard
features, but well formed, vigorous and healthy, the true type of a
robust peasant woman, half animal, and half woman.
She was aware of her reputation and received everyone with a humility
that smacked of hatred.
"What do the gentlemen wish?" she asked.
"They tell me that your last child is just like an ordinary child, that
he does not resemble his brothers at all," replied my friend. "I wanted
to be sure of that. Is it true?"
She cast on us a malicious and furious look as she said:
"Oh, no, oh, no, my poor sir! He is perhaps even uglier than the rest.
I have no luck, no luck!
"They are all like that, it is heartbreaking! How can the good God be so
hard on a poor woman who is all alone in the world, how can He?"
She spoke hurriedly, her eyes cast down, with a deprecating air as of a
wild beast who is afraid. Her harsh voice became soft, and it seemed
strange to hear those tearful falsetto tones issuing from that big, bony
frame, of unusual strength and with coarse outlines, which seemed fitted
for violent action, and made to utter howls like a wolf.
"We should like to see your little one," said my friend.
I fancied she colored up. I may have been deceived. After a few moments
of silence, she said in a louder tone:
"What good will that do you?"
"Why do you not wish to show it to us?" replied my friend. "There are
many people to whom you will show it; you know whom I mean."
She gave a start, and resuming her natural voice, and giving free play to
her anger, she screamed:
"Was that why you came here? To insult me? Because my children are like
animals, tell me? You shall not see him, no, no, you shall not see him!
Go away, go away! I do not know why you all try to torment me like
She walked over toward us, her hands on her hips. At the brutal tone of
her voice, a sort of moaning, or rather a mewing, the lamentable cry of
an idiot, came from the adjoining room. I shivered to the marrow of my
bones. We retreated before her.
"Take care, Devil" (they called her the Devil); said my friend, "take
care; some day you will get yourself into trouble through this."
She began to tremble, beside herself with fury, shaking her fist and
"Be off with you! What will get me into trouble? Be off with you,
She was about to attack us, but we fled, saddened at what we had seen.
When we got outside, my friend said:
"Well, you have seen her, what do you think of her?"
"Tell me the story of this brute," I replied.
And this is what he told me as we walked along the white high road, with
ripe crops on either side of it which rippled like the sea in the light
breeze that passed over them.
"This woman was one a servant on a farm. She was an honest girl, steady
and economical. She was never known to have an admirer, and never
suspected of any frailty. But she went astray, as so many do.
"She soon found herself in trouble, and was tortured with fear and shame.
Wishing to conceal her misfortune, she bound her body tightly with a
corset of her own invention, made of boards and cord. The more she
developed, the more she bound herself with this instrument of torture,
suffering martyrdom, but brave in her sorrow, not allowing anyone to see,
or suspect, anything. She maimed the little unborn being, cramping it
with that frightful corset, and made a monster of it. Its head was
squeezed and elongated to a point, and its large eyes seemed popping out
of its head. Its limbs, exaggeratedly long, and twisted like the stalk
of a vine, terminated in fingers like the claws of a spider. Its trunk
was tiny, and round as a nut.
"The child was born in an open field, and when the weeders saw it, they
fled away, screaming, and the report spread that she had given birth to a
demon. From that time on, she was called 'the Devil.'
"She was driven from the farm, and lived on charity, under a cloud. She
brought up the monster, whom she hated with a savage hatred, and would
have strangled, perhaps, if the priest had not threatened her with
"One day some travelling showmen heard about the frightful creature, and
asked to see it, so that if it pleased them they might take it away.
They were pleased, and counted out five hundred francs to the mother.
At first, she had refused to let them see the little animal, as she was
ashamed; but when she discovered it had a money value, and that these
people were anxious to get it, she began to haggle with them, raising her
price with all a peasant's persistence.
"She made them draw up a paper, in which they promised to pay her four
hundred francs a year besides, as though they had taken this deformity
into their employ.
"Incited by the greed of gain, she continued to produce these phenomena,
so as to have an assured income like a bourgeoise.
"Some of them were long, some short, some like crabs-all bodies-others
like lizards. Several died, and she was heartbroken.
"The law tried to interfere, but as they had no proof they let her
continue to produce her freaks.
"She has at this moment eleven alive, and they bring in, on an average,
counting good and bad years, from five to six thousand francs a year.
One, alone, is not placed, the one she was unwilling to show us. But she
will not keep it long, for she is known to all the showmen in the world,
who come from time to time to see if she has anything new.
"She even gets bids from them when the monster is valuable."
My friend was silent. A profound disgust stirred my heart, and a feeling
of rage, of regret, to think that I had not strangled this brute when I
had the opportunity.
I had forgotten this story, when I saw on the beach of a fashionable
resort the other day, an elegant, charming, dainty woman, surrounded by
men who paid her respect as well as admiration.
I was walking along the beach, arm in arm with a friend, the resident
physician. Ten minutes later, I saw a nursemaid with three children, who
were rolling in the sand. A pair of little crutches lay on the ground,
and touched my sympathy. I then noticed that these three children were
all deformed, humpbacked, or crooked; and hideous.
"Those are the offspring of that charming woman you saw just now," said
I was filled with pity for her, as well as for them, and exclaimed:
"Oh, the poor mother! How can she ever laugh!"
"Do not pity her, my friend. Pity the poor children," replied the
doctor. "This is the consequence of preserving a slender figure up to
the last. These little deformities were made by the corset. She knows
very well that she is risking her life at this game. But what does she
care, as long as lie can be beautiful and have admirers!"
And then I recalled that other woman, the peasant, the "Devil," who sold
her children, her monsters.
AN UNCOMFORTABLE BED
One autumn I went to spend the hunting season with some friends in a
chateau in Picardy.
My friends were fond of practical jokes. I do not care to know people
who are not.
When I arrived, they gave me a princely reception, which at once awakened
suspicion in my mind. They fired off rifles, embraced me, made much of
me, as if they expected to have great fun at my expense.
I said to myself:
"Look out, old ferret! They have something in store for you."
During the dinner the mirth was excessive, exaggerated, in fact.
I thought: "Here are people who have more than their share of amusement,
and apparently without reason. They must have planned some good joke.
Assuredly I am to be the victim of the joke. Attention!"
During the entire evening every one laughed in an exaggerated fashion.
I scented a practical joke in the air, as a dog scents game. But what
was it? I was watchful, restless. I did not let a word, or a meaning,
or a gesture escape me. Every one seemed to me an object of suspicion,
and I even looked distrustfully at the faces of the servants.
The hour struck for retiring; and the whole household came to escort me
to my room. Why?
They called to me: "Good-night." I entered the apartment, shut the door,
and remained standing, without moving a single step, holding the wax
candle in my hand.
I heard laughter and whispering in the corridor. Without doubt they were
spying on me. I cast a glance round the walls, the furniture, the
ceiling, the hangings, the floor. I saw nothing to justify suspicion.
I heard persons moving about outside my door. I had no doubt they were
looking through the keyhole.
An idea came into my head: "My candle may suddenly go out and leave me in
Then I went across to the mantelpiece and lighted all the wax candles
that were on it. After that I cast another glance around me without
discovering anything. I advanced with short steps, carefully examining
the apartment. Nothing. I inspected every article, one after the other.
Still nothing. I went over to the window. The shutters, large wooden
shutters, were open. I shut them with great care, and then drew the
curtains, enormous velvet curtains, and placed a chair in front of them,
so as to have nothing to fear from outside.
Then I cautiously sat down. The armchair was solid. I did not venture
to get into the bed. However, the night was advancing; and I ended by
coming to the conclusion that I was foolish. If they were spying on me,
as I supposed, they must, while waiting for the success of the joke they
had been preparing for me, have been laughing immoderately at my terror.
So I made up my mind to go to bed. But the bed was particularly
suspicious-looking. I pulled at the curtains. They seemed to be secure.
All the same, there was danger. I was going perhaps to receive a cold
shower both from overhead, or perhaps, the moment I stretched myself out,
to find myself sinking to the floor with my mattress. I searched in my
memory for all the practical jokes of which I ever had experience. And I
did not want to be caught. Ah! certainly not! certainly not! Then I
suddenly bethought myself of a precaution which I considered insured
safety. I caught hold of the side of the mattress gingerly, and very
slowly drew it toward me. It came away, followed by the sheet and the
rest of the bedclothes. I dragged all these objects into the very middle
of the room, facing the entrance door. I made my bed over again as best
I could at some distance from the suspected bedstead and the corner which
had filled me with such anxiety. Then I extinguished all the candles,
and, groping my way, I slipped under the bed clothes.
For at least another hour I remained awake, starting at the slightest
sound. Everything seemed quiet in the chateau. I fell asleep.
I must have been in a deep sleep for a long time, but all of a sudden I
was awakened with a start by the fall of a heavy body tumbling right on
top of my own, and, at the same time, I received on my face, on my neck,
and on my chest a burning liquid which made me utter a howl of pain. And
a dreadful noise, as if a sideboard laden with plates and dishes had
fallen down, almost deafened me.
I was smothering beneath the weight that was crushing me and preventing
me from moving. I stretched out my hand to find out what was the nature
of this object. I felt a face, a nose, and whiskers. Then, with all my
strength, I launched out a blow at this face. But I immediately received
a hail of cuffings which made me jump straight out of the soaked sheets,
and rush in my nightshirt into the corridor, the door of which I found
Oh, heavens! it was broad daylight. The noise brought my friends
hurrying into my apartment, and we found, sprawling over my improvised
bed, the dismayed valet, who, while bringing me my morning cup of tea,
had tripped over this obstacle in the middle of the floor and fallen on
his stomach, spilling my breakfast over my face in spite of himself.
The precautions I had taken in closing the shutters and going to sleep in
the middle of the room had only brought about the practical joke I had
been trying to avoid.
Oh, how they all laughed that day!
"Hello! there's Milial!" said somebody near me. I looked at the man who
had been pointed out as I had been wishing for a long time to meet this
He was no longer young. His gray hair looked a little like those fur
bonnets worn by certain Northern peoples, and his long beard, which fell
down over his chest, had also somewhat the appearance of fur. He was
talking to a lady, leaning toward her, speaking in a low voice and
looking at her with an expression full of respect and tenderness.
I knew his life, or at least as much as was known of it. He had loved
madly several times, and there had been certain tragedies with which his
name had been connected. When I spoke to women who were the loudest in
his praise, and asked them whence came this power, they always answered,
after thinking for a while: "I don't know--he has a certain charm about
He was certainly not handsome. He had none of the elegance that we
ascribe to conquerors of feminine hearts. I wondered what might be his
hid den charm. Was it mental? I never had heard of a clever saying of
his. In his glance? Perhaps. Or in his voice? The voices of some
beings have a certain irresistible attraction, almost suggesting the
flavor of things good to eat. One is hungry for them, and the sound of
their words penetrates us like a dainty morsel. A friend was passing.
I asked him: "Do you know Monsieur Milial?"
A minute later we were shaking hands and talking in the doorway. What he
said was correct, agreeable to hear; it contained no irritable thought.
The voice was sweet, soft, caressing, musical; but I had heard others
much more attractive, much more moving. One listened to him with
pleasure, just as one would look at a pretty little brook. No tension of
the mind was necessary in order to follow him, no hidden meaning aroused
curiosity, no expectation awoke interest. His conversation was rather
restful, but it did not awaken in one either a desire to answer, to
contradict or to approve, and it was as easy to answer him as it was to
listen to him. The response came to the lips of its own accord, as soon
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