Original Short Stories, Volume 6.
Guy de Maupassant
Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Widger
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 6.
By Guy de Maupassant
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
THAT COSTLY RIDE
MY UNCLE SOSTHENES
MOTHER AND SON
A TRESS OF HAIR
ON THE RIVER
THE RONDOLI SISTERS
THAT COSTLY RIDE
The household lived frugally on the meager income derived from the
husband's insignificant appointments. Two children had been born of the
marriage, and the earlier condition of the strictest economy had become
one of quiet, concealed, shamefaced misery, the poverty of a noble
family--which in spite of misfortune never forgets its rank.
Hector de Gribelin had been educated in the provinces, under the paternal
roof, by an aged priest. His people were not rich, but they managed to
live and to keep up appearances.
At twenty years of age they tried to find him a position, and he entered
the Ministry of Marine as a clerk at sixty pounds a year. He foundered
on the rock of life like all those who have not been early prepared for
its rude struggles, who look at life through a mist, who do not know how
to protect themselves, whose special aptitudes and faculties have not
been developed from childhood, whose early training has not developed the
rough energy needed for the battle of life or furnished them with tool or
His first three years of office work were a martyrdom.
He had, however, renewed the acquaintance of a few friends of his family
--elderly people, far behind the times, and poor like himself, who lived
in aristocratic streets, the gloomy thoroughfares of the Faubourg Saint-
Germain; and he had created a social circle for himself.
Strangers to modern life, humble yet proud, these needy aristocrats lived
in the upper stories of sleepy, old-world houses. From top to bottom of
their dwellings the tenants were titled, but money seemed just as scarce
on the ground floor as in the attics.
Their eternal prejudices, absorption in their rank, anxiety lest they
should lose caste, filled the minds and thoughts of these families once
so brilliant, now ruined by the idleness of the men of the family.
Hector de Gribelin met in this circle a young girl as well born and as
poor as himself and married her.
They had two children in four years.
For four years more the husband and wife, harassed by poverty, knew no
other distraction than the Sunday walk in the Champs-Elysees and a few
evenings at the theatre (amounting in all to one or two in the course of
the winter) which they owed to free passes presented by some comrade or
But in the spring of the following year some overtime work was entrusted
to Hector de Gribelin by his chief, for which he received the large sum
of three hundred francs.
The day he brought the money home he said to his wife:
"My dear Henrietta, we must indulge in some sort of festivity--say an
outing for the children."
And after a long discussion it was decided that they should go and lunch
one day in the country.
"Well," cried Hector, "once will not break us, so we'll hire a wagonette
for you, the children and the maid. And I'll have a saddle horse; the
exercise will do me good."
The whole week long they talked of nothing but the projected excursion.
Every evening, on his return from the office, Hector caught up his elder
son, put him astride his leg, and, making him bounce up and down as hard
as he could, said:
"That's how daddy will gallop next Sunday."
And the youngster amused himself all day long by bestriding chairs,
dragging them round the room and shouting:
"This is daddy on horseback!"
The servant herself gazed at her master with awestruck eyes as she
thought of him riding alongside the carriage, and at meal-times she
listened with all her ears while he spoke of riding and recounted the
exploits of his youth, when he lived at home with his father. Oh, he had
learned in a good school, and once he felt his steed between his legs he
feared nothing--nothing whatever!
Rubbing his hands, he repeated gaily to his wife:
"If only they would give me a restive animal I should be all the better
pleased. You'll see how well I can ride; and if you like we'll come back
by the Champs-Elysees just as all the people are returning from the Bois.
As we shall make a good appearance, I shouldn't at all object to meeting
some one from the ministry. That is all that is necessary to insure the
respect of one's chiefs."
On the day appointed the carriage and the riding horse arrived at the
same moment before the door. Hector went down immediately to examine his
mount. He had had straps sewn to his trousers and flourished in his hand
a whip he had bought the evening before.
He raised the horse's legs and felt them one after another, passed his
hand over the animal's neck, flank and hocks, opened his mouth, examined
his teeth, declared his age; and then, the whole household having
collected round him, he delivered a discourse on the horse in general and
the specimen before him in particular, pronouncing the latter excellent
in every respect.
When the rest of the party had taken their seats in the carriage he
examined the saddle-girth; then, putting his foot in the stirrup, he
sprang to the saddle. The animal began to curvet and nearly threw his
Hector, not altogether at his ease, tried to soothe him:
"Come, come, good horse, gently now!"
Then, when the horse had recovered his equanimity and the rider his
nerve, the latter asked:
"Are you ready?"
The occupants of the carriage replied with one voice:
"Forward!" he commanded.
And the cavalcade set out.
All looks were centered on him. He trotted in the English style, rising
unnecessarily high in the saddle; looking at times as if he were mounting
into space. Sometimes he seemed on the point of falling forward on the
horse's mane; his eyes were fixed, his face drawn, his cheeks pale.
His wife, holding one of the children on her knees, and the servant, who
was carrying the other, continually cried out:
"Look at papa! look at papa!"
And the two boys, intoxicated by the motion of the carriage, by their
delight and by the keen air, uttered shrill cries. The horse, frightened
by the noise they made, started off at a gallop, and while Hector was
trying to control his steed his hat fell off, and the driver had to get
down and pick it up. When the equestrian had recovered it he called to
his wife from a distance:
"Don't let the children shout like that! They'll make the horse bolt!"
They lunched on the grass in the Vesinet woods, having brought provisions
with them in the carriage.
Although the driver was looking after the three horses, Hector rose every
minute to see if his own lacked anything; he patted him on the neck and
fed him with bread, cakes and sugar.
"He's an unequal trotter," he declared. "He certainly shook me up a
little at first, but, as you saw, I soon got used to it. He knows his
master now and won't give any more trouble."
As had been decided, they returned by the Champs-Elysees.
That spacious thoroughfare literally swarmed with vehicles of every kind,
and on the sidewalks the pedestrians were so numerous that they looked
like two indeterminate black ribbons unfurling their length from the Arc
de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. A flood of sunlight played on
this gay scene, making the varnish of the carriages, the steel of the
harness and the handles of the carriage doors shine with dazzling
An intoxication of life and motion seemed to have invaded this assemblage
of human beings, carriages and horses. In the distance the outlines of
the Obelisk could be discerned in a cloud of golden vapor.
As soon as Hector's horse had passed the Arc de Triomphe he became
suddenly imbued with fresh energy, and, realizing that his stable was not
far off, began to trot rapidly through the maze of wheels, despite all
his rider's efforts to restrain him.
The carriage was now far behind. When the horse arrived opposite the
Palais de l'Industrie he saw a clear field before him, and, turning to
the right, set off at a gallop.
An old woman wearing an apron was crossing the road in leisurely fashion.
She happened to be just in Hector's way as he arrived on the scene riding
at full speed. Powerless to control his mount, he shouted at the top of
"Hi! Look out there! Hi!"
She must have been deaf, for she continued peacefully on her way until
the awful moment when, struck by the horse's chest as by a locomotive
under full steam, she rolled ten paces off, turning three somersaults on
Hector, frantic with terror, clung to the horse's mane and shouted:
A terrible jolt hurled him, as if shot from a gun, over his horse's ears
and cast him into the arms of a policeman who was running up to stop him.
In the space of a second a furious, gesticulating, vociferating group had
gathered round him. An old gentleman with a white mustache, wearing a
large round decoration, seemed particularly exasperated. He repeated:
"Confound it! When a man is as awkward as all that he should remain at
home and not come killing people in the streets, if he doesn't know how
to handle a horse."
Four men arrived on the scene, carrying the old woman. She appeared to
be dead. Her skin was like parchment, her cap on one side and she was
covered with dust.
"Take her to a druggist's," ordered the old gentleman, "and let us go to
the commissary of police."
Hector started on his way with a policeman on either side of him, a third
was leading his horse. A crowd followed them--and suddenly the wagonette
appeared in sight. His wife alighted in consternation, the servant lost
her head, the children whimpered. He explained that he would soon be at
home, that he had knocked a woman down and that there was not much the
matter. And his family, distracted with anxiety, went on their way.
When they arrived before the commissary the explanation took place in few
words. He gave his name--Hector de Gribelin, employed at the Ministry of
Marine; and then they awaited news of the injured woman. A policeman who
had been sent to obtain information returned, saying that she had
recovered consciousness, but was complaining of frightful internal pain.
She was a charwoman, sixty-five years of age, named Madame Simon.
When he heard that she was not dead Hector regained hope and promised to
defray her doctor's bill. Then he hastened to the druggist's. The door
way was thronged; the injured woman, huddled in an armchair, was
groaning. Her arms hung at her sides, her face was drawn. Two doctors
were still engaged in examining her. No bones were broken, but they
feared some internal lesion.
Hector addressed her:
"Do you suffer much?"
"Where is the pain?"
"I feel as if my stomach were on fire."
A doctor approached.
"Are you the gentleman who caused the accident?"
"This woman ought to be sent to a home. I know one where they would take
her at six francs a day. Would you like me to send her there?"
Hector was delighted at the idea, thanked him and returned home much
His wife, dissolved in tears, was awaiting him. He reassured her.
"It's all right. This Madame Simon is better already and will be quite
well in two or three days. I have sent her to a home. It's all right."
When he left his office the next day he went to inquire for Madame Simon.
He found her eating rich soup with an air of great satisfaction.
"Well?" said he.
"Oh, sir," she replied, "I'm just the same. I feel sort of crushed--not
a bit better."
The doctor declared they must wait and see; some complication or other
Hector waited three days, then he returned. The old woman, fresh-faced
and clear-eyed, began to whine when she saw him:
"I can't move, sir; I can't move a bit. I shall be like this for the
rest of my days."
A shudder passed through Hector's frame. He asked for the doctor, who
merely shrugged his shoulders and said:
"What can I do? I can't tell what's wrong with her. She shrieks when
they try to raise her. They can't even move her chair from one place to
another without her uttering the most distressing cries. I am bound to
believe what she tells me; I can't look into her inside. So long as I
have no chance of seeing her walk I am not justified in supposing her to
be telling lies about herself."
The old woman listened, motionless, a malicious gleam in her eyes.
A week passed, then a fortnight, then a month. Madame Simon did not
leave her armchair. She ate from morning to night, grew fat, chatted
gaily with the other patients and seemed to enjoy her immobility as if it
were the rest to which she was entitled after fifty years of going up and
down stairs, of turning mattresses, of carrying coal from one story to
another, of sweeping and dusting.
Hector, at his wits' end, came to see her every day. Every day he found
her calm and serene, declaring:
"I can't move, sir; I shall never be able to move again."
Every evening Madame de Gribelin, devoured with anxiety, said:
"How is Madame Simon?"
And every time he replied with a resignation born of despair:
"Just the same; no change whatever."
They dismissed the servant, whose wages they could no longer afford.
They economized more rigidly than ever. The whole of the extra pay had
been swallowed up.
Then Hector summoned four noted doctors, who met in consultation over the
old woman. She let them examine her, feel her, sound her, watching them
the while with a cunning eye.
"We must make her walk," said one.
"But, sirs, I can't!" she cried. "I can't move!"
Then they took hold of her, raised her and dragged her a short distance,
but she slipped from their grasp and fell to the floor, groaning and
giving vent to such heartrending cries that they carried her back to her
seat with infinite care and precaution.
They pronounced a guarded opinion--agreeing, however, that work was an
impossibility to her.
And when Hector brought this news to his wife she sank on a chair,
"It would be better to bring her here; it would cost us less."
He started in amazement.
"Here? In our own house? How can you think of such a thing?"
But she, resigned now to anything, replied with tears in her eyes:
"But what can we do, my love? It's not my fault!"
About half-past five one afternoon at the end of June when the sun was
shining warm and bright into the large courtyard, a very elegant victoria
with two beautiful black horses drew up in front of the mansion.
The Comtesse de Mascaret came down the steps just as her husband, who was
coming home, appeared in the carriage entrance. He stopped for a few
moments to look at his wife and turned rather pale. The countess was
very beautiful, graceful and distinguished looking, with her long oval
face, her complexion like yellow ivory, her large gray eyes and her black
hair; and she got into her carriage without looking at him, without even
seeming to have noticed him, with such a particularly high-bred air, that
the furious jealousy by which he had been devoured for so long again
gnawed at his heart. He went up to her and said: "You are going for a
She merely replied disdainfully: "You see I am!"
"In the Bois de Boulogne?"
"May I come with you?"
"The carriage belongs to you."
Without being surprised at the tone in which she answered him, he got in
and sat down by his wife's side and said: "Bois de Boulogne." The
footman jumped up beside the coachman, and the horses as usual pranced
and tossed their heads until they were in the street. Husband and wife
sat side by side without speaking. He was thinking how to begin a
conversation, but she maintained such an obstinately hard look that he
did not venture to make the attempt. At last, however, he cunningly,
accidentally as it were, touched the countess' gloved hand with his own,
but she drew her arm away with a movement which was so expressive of
disgust that he remained thoughtful, in spite of his usual authoritative
and despotic character, and he said: "Gabrielle!"
"What do you want?"
"I think you are looking adorable."
She did not reply, but remained lying back in the carriage, looking like
an irritated queen. By that time they were driving up the Champs
Elysees, toward the Arc de Triomphe. That immense monument, at the end
of the long avenue, raised its colossal arch against the red sky and the
sun seemed to be descending on it, showering fiery dust on it from the
The stream of carriages, with dashes of sunlight reflected in the silver
trappings of the harness and the glass of the lamps, flowed on in a
double current toward the town and toward the Bois, and the Comte de
Mascaret continued: "My dear Gabrielle!"
Unable to control herself any longer, she replied in an exasperated
voice: "Oh! do leave me in peace, pray! I am not even allowed to have
my carriage to myself now." He pretended not to hear her and continued:
"You never have looked so pretty as you do to-day."
Her patience had come to an end, and she replied with irrepressible
anger: "You are wrong to notice it, for I swear to you that I will never
have anything to do with you in that way again."
The count was decidedly stupefied and upset, and, his violent nature
gaining the upper hand, he exclaimed: "What do you mean by that?" in a
tone that betrayed rather the brutal master than the lover. She replied
in a low voice, so that the servants might not hear amid the deafening
noise of the wheels: "Ah! What do I mean by that? What do I mean by
that? Now I recognize you again! Do you want me to tell everything?"
"Everything that has weighed on my heart since I have been the victim of
your terrible selfishness?"
He had grown red with surprise and anger and he growled between his
closed teeth: "Yes, tell me everything."
He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a big red beard, a handsome
man, a nobleman, a man of the world, who passed as a perfect husband and
an excellent father, and now, for the first time since they had started,
she turned toward him and looked him full in the face: "Ah! You will
hear some disagreeable things, but you must know that I am prepared for
everything, that I fear nothing, and you less than any one to-day."
He also was looking into her eyes and was already shaking with rage as he
said in a low voice: "You are mad."
"No, but I will no longer be the victim of the hateful penalty of
maternity, which you have inflicted on me for eleven years! I wish to
take my place in society as I have the right to do, as all women have the
right to do."
He suddenly grew pale again and stammered: "I do not understand you."
"Oh! yes; you understand me well enough. It is now three months since I
had my last child, and as I am still very beautiful, and as, in spite of
all your efforts you cannot spoil my figure, as you just now perceived,
when you saw me on the doorstep, you think it is time that I should think
of having another child."
"But you are talking nonsense!"
"No, I am not, I am thirty, and I have had seven children, and we have
been married eleven years, and you hope that this will go on for ten
years longer, after which you will leave off being jealous."
He seized her arm and squeezed it, saying: "I will not allow you to talk
to me like that much longer."
"And I shall talk to you till the end, until I have finished all I have
to say to you, and if you try to prevent me, I shall raise my voice so
that the two servants, who are on the box, may hear. I only allowed you
to come with me for that object, for I have these witnesses who will
oblige you to listen to me and to contain yourself, so now pay attention
to what I say. I have always felt an antipathy to you, and I have always
let you see it, for I have never lied, monsieur. You married me in spite
of myself; you forced my parents, who were in embarrassed circumstances,
to give me to you, because you were rich, and they obliged me to marry
you in spite of my tears.
"So you bought me, and as soon as I was in your power, as soon as I had
become your companion, ready to attach myself to you, to forget your
coercive and threatening proceedings, in order that I might only remember
that I ought to be a devoted wife and to love you as much as it might be
possible for me to love you, you became jealous, you, as no man has ever
been before, with the base, ignoble jealousy of a spy, which was as
degrading to you as it was to me. I had not been married eight months
when you suspected me of every perfidiousness, and you even told me so.
What a disgrace! And as you could not prevent me from being beautiful
and from pleasing people, from being called in drawing-rooms and also in
the newspapers one of the most beautiful women in Paris, you tried
everything you could think of to keep admirers from me, and you hit upon
the abominable idea of making me spend my life in a constant state of
motherhood, until the time should come when I should disgust every man.
Oh, do not deny it. I did not understand it for some time, but then I
guessed it. You even boasted about it to your sister, who told me of it,
for she is fond of me and was disgusted at your boorish coarseness.
"Ah! Remember how you have behaved in the past! How for eleven years
you have compelled me to give up all society and simply be a mother to
your children. And then you would grow disgusted with me and I was sent
into the country, the family chateau, among fields and meadows. And when
I reappeared, fresh, pretty and unspoiled, still seductive and constantly
surrounded by admirers, hoping that at last I should live a little more
like a rich young society woman, you were seized with jealousy again, and
you began once more to persecute me with that infamous and hateful desire
from which you are suffering at this moment by my side. And it is not
the desire of possessing me--for I should never have refused myself to
you, but it is the wish to make me unsightly.
"And then that abominable and mysterious thing occurred which I was a
long time in understanding (but I grew sharp by dint of watching your
thoughts and actions): You attached yourself to your children with all
the security which they gave you while I bore them. You felt affection
for them, with all your aversion to me, and in spite of your ignoble
fears, which were momentarily allayed by your pleasure in seeing me lose
"Oh! how often have I noticed that joy in you! I have seen it in your
eyes and guessed it. You loved your children as victories, and not
because they were of your own blood. They were victories over me, over
my youth, over my beauty, over my charms, over the compliments which were
paid me and over those that were whispered around me without being paid
to me personally. And you are proud of them, you make a parade of them,
you take them out for drives in your break in the Bois de Boulogne and
you give them donkey rides at Montmorency. You take them to theatrical
matinees so that you may be seen in the midst of them, so that the people
may say: 'What a kind father' and that it may be repeated----"
He had seized her wrist with savage brutality, and he squeezed it so
violently that she was quiet and nearly cried out with the pain and he
said to her in a whisper:
"I love my children, do you hear? What you have just told me is
disgraceful in a mother. But you belong to me; I am master--your master
--I can exact from you what I like and when I like--and I have the law-on
He was trying to crush her fingers in the strong grip of his large,
muscular hand, and she, livid with pain, tried in vain to free them from
that vise which was crushing them. The agony made her breathe hard and
the tears came into her eyes. "You see that I am the master and the
stronger," he said. When he somewhat loosened his grip, she asked him:
"Do you think that I am a religious woman?"
He was surprised and stammered "Yes."
"Do you think that I could lie if I swore to the truth of anything to you
before an altar on which Christ's body is?"
"Will you go with me to some church?"
"You shall see. Will you?"
"If you absolutely wish it, yes."
She raised her voice and said: "Philippe!" And the coachman, bending down
a little, without taking his eyes from his horses, seemed to turn his ear
alone toward his mistress, who continued: "Drive to St. Philippe-du-
Roule." And the-victoria, which had reached the entrance of the Bois de
Boulogne returned to Paris.
Husband and wife did not exchange a word further during the drive, and
when the carriage stopped before the church Madame de Mascaret jumped out
and entered it, followed by the count, a few yards distant. She went,
without stopping, as far as the choir-screen, and falling on her knees at
a chair, she buried her face in her hands. She prayed for a long time,
and he, standing behind her could see that she was crying. She wept
noiselessly, as women weep when they are in great, poignant grief. There
was a kind of undulation in her body, which ended in a little sob, which
was hidden and stifled by her fingers.
But the Comte de Mascaret thought that the situation was lasting too
long, and he touched her on the shoulder. That contact recalled her to
herself, as if she had been burned, and getting up, she looked straight
into his eyes. "This is what I have to say to you. I am afraid of
nothing, whatever you may do to me. You may kill me if you like. One of
your children is not yours, and one only; that I swear to you before God,
who hears me here. That was the only revenge that was possible for me in
return for all your abominable masculine tyrannies, in return for the
penal servitude of childbearing to which you have condemned me. Who was
my lover? That you never will know! You may suspect every one, but you
never will find out. I gave myself to him, without love and without
pleasure, only for the sake of betraying you, and he also made me a
mother. Which is the child? That also you never will know. I have
seven; try to find out! I intended to tell you this later, for one has
not avenged oneself on a man by deceiving him, unless he knows it. You
have driven me to confess it today. I have now finished."
She hurried through the church toward the open door, expecting to hear
behind her the quick step: of her husband whom she had defied and to be
knocked to the ground by a blow of his fist, but she heard nothing and
reached her carriage. She jumped into it at a bound, overwhelmed with
anguish and breathless with fear. So she called out to the coachman:
"Home!" and the horses set off at a quick trot.
The Comtesse de Mascaret was waiting in her room for dinner time as a
criminal sentenced to death awaits the hour of his execution. What was
her husband going to do? Had he come home? Despotic, passionate, ready
for any violence as he was, what was he meditating, what had he made up
his mind to do? There was no sound in the house, and every moment she
looked at the clock. Her lady's maid had come and dressed her for the
evening and had then left the room again. Eight o'clock struck and
almost at the same moment there were two knocks at the door, and the
butler came in and announced dinner.
"Has the count come in?"
"Yes, Madame la Comtesse. He is in the diningroom."
For a little moment she felt inclined to arm herself with a small
revolver which she had bought some time before, foreseeing the tragedy
which was being rehearsed in her heart. But she remembered that all the
children would be there, and she took nothing except a bottle of smelling
salts. He rose somewhat ceremoniously from his chair. They exchanged a
slight bow and sat down. The three boys with their tutor, Abbe Martin,
were on her right and the three girls, with Miss Smith, their English
governess, were on her left. The youngest child, who was only three
months old, remained upstairs with his nurse.
The abbe said grace as usual when there was no company, for the children
did not come down to dinner when guests were present. Then they began
dinner. The countess, suffering from emotion, which she had not
calculated upon, remained with her eyes cast down, while the count
scrutinized now the three boys and now the three girls. with an
uncertain, unhappy expression, which travelled from one to the other.
Suddenly pushing his wineglass from him, it broke, and the wine was spilt
on the tablecloth, and at the slight noise caused by this little accident
the countess started up from her chair; and for the first time they
looked at each other. Then, in spite of themselves, in spite of the
irritation of their nerves caused by every glance, they continued to
exchange looks, rapid as pistol shots.
The abbe, who felt that there was some cause for embarrassment which he
could not divine, attempted to begin a conversation and tried various
subjects, but his useless efforts gave rise to no ideas and did not bring
out a word. The countess, with feminine tact and obeying her instincts
of a woman of the world, attempted to answer him two or three times, but
in vain. She could not find words, in the perplexity of her mind, and
her own voice almost frightened her in the silence of the large room,
where nothing was heard except the slight sound of plates and knives and
Suddenly her husband said to her, bending forward: "Here, amid your
children, will you swear to me that what you told me just now is true?"
The hatred which was fermenting in her veins suddenly roused her, and
replying to that question with the same firmness with which she had
replied to his looks, she raised both her hands, the right pointing
toward the boys and the left toward the girls, and said in a firm,
resolute voice and without any hesitation: "On the head of my children,
I swear that I have told you the truth."
He got up and throwing his table napkin on the table with a movement of
exasperation, he turned round and flung his chair against the wall, and
then went out without another word, while she, uttering a deep sigh, as
if after a first victory, went on in a calm voice: "You must not pay any
attention to what your father has just said, my darlings; he was very
much upset a short time ago, but he will be all right again in a few
Then she talked with the abbe and Miss Smith and had tender, pretty words
for all her children, those sweet, tender mother's ways which unfold
When dinner was over she went into the drawing-room, all her children
following her. She made the elder ones chatter, and when their bedtime
came she kissed them for a long time and then went alone into her room.
She waited, for she had no doubt that the count would come, and she made
up her mind then, as her children were not with her, to protect herself
as a woman of the world as she would protect her life, and in the pocket
of her dress she put the little loaded revolver which she had bought a
few days previously. The hours went by, the hours struck, and every
sound was hushed in the house. Only the cabs, continued to rumble
through the streets, but their noise was only heard vaguely through the
shuttered and curtained windows.
She waited, full of nervous energy, without any fear of him now, ready
for anything, and almost triumphant, for she had found means of torturing
him continually during every moment of his life.
But the first gleam of dawn came in through the fringe at the bottom of
her curtain without his having come into her room, and then she awoke to
the fact, with much amazement, that he was not coming. Having locked and
bolted her door, for greater security, she went to bed at last and
remained there, with her eyes open, thinking and barely understanding it
all, without being able to guess what he was going to do.
When her maid brought her tea she at the same time handed her a letter
from her husband. He told her that he was going to undertake a longish
journey and in a postscript added that his lawyer would provide her with
any sums of money she might require for all her expenses.
It was at the opera, between two acts of "Robert the Devil." In the
stalls the men were standing up, with their hats on, their waistcoats cut
very low so as to show a large amount of white shirt front, in which gold
and jewelled studs glistened, and were looking at the boxes full of
ladies in low dresses covered with diamonds and pearls, who were
expanding like flowers in that illuminated hothouse, where the beauty of
their faces and the whiteness of their shoulders seemed to bloom in order
to be gazed at, amid the sound of the music and of human voices.
Two friends, with their backs to the orchestra, were scanning those rows
of elegance, that exhibition of real or false charms, of jewels, of
luxury and of pretension which displayed itself in all parts of the Grand
Theatre, and one of them, Roger de Salnis, said to his companion, Bernard
"Just look how beautiful the Comtesse de Mascaret still is."
The older man in turn looked through his opera glasses at a tall lady in
a box opposite. She appeared to be still very young, and her striking
beauty seemed to attract all eyes in every corner of the house. Her pale
complexion, of an ivory tint, gave her the appearance of a statue, while
a small diamond coronet glistened on her black hair like a streak of
When he had looked at her for some time, Bernard Grandin replied with a
jocular accent of sincere conviction: "You may well call her beautiful!"
"How old do you think she is?"
"Wait a moment. I can tell you exactly, for I have known her since she
was a child and I saw her make her debut into society when she was quite
a girl. She is--she is--thirty--thirty-six."
"I am sure of it."
"She looks twenty-five."
"She has had seven children."
"It is incredible."
"And what is more, they are all seven alive, as she is a very good
mother. I occasionally go to the house, which is a very quiet and
pleasant one, where one may see the phenomenon of the family in the midst
"How very strange! And have there never been any reports about her?"
"But what about her husband? He is peculiar, is he not?"
"Yes and no. Very likely there has been a little drama between them, one
of those little domestic dramas which one suspects, never finds out
exactly, but guesses at pretty closely."
"What is it?"
"I do not know anything about it. Mascaret leads a very fast life now,
after being a model husband. As long as he remained a good spouse he had
a shocking temper, was crabbed and easily took offence, but since he has
been leading his present wild life he has become quite different, But one
might surmise that he has some trouble, a worm gnawing somewhere, for he
has aged very much."
Thereupon the two friends talked philosophically for some minutes about
the secret, unknowable troubles which differences of character or perhaps
physical antipathies, which were not perceived at first, give rise to in
families, and then Roger de Salnis, who was still looking at Madame de
Mascaret through his opera glasses, said: "It is almost incredible that
that woman can have had seven children!"
"Yes, in eleven years; after which, when she was thirty, she refused to
have any more, in order to take her place in society, which she seems
likely to do for many years."
"Why do you pity them?"
"Why? Ah! my dear fellow, just consider! Eleven years in a condition of
motherhood for such a woman! What a hell! All her youth, all her
beauty, every hope of success, every poetical ideal of a brilliant life
sacrificed to that abominable law of reproduction which turns the normal
woman into a mere machine for bringing children into the world."
"What would you have? It is only Nature!"
"Yes, but I say that Nature is our enemy, that we must always fight
against Nature, for she is continually bringing us back to an animal
state. You may be sure that God has not put anything on this earth that
is clean, pretty, elegant or accessory to our ideal; the human brain has
done it. It is man who has introduced a little grace, beauty, unknown
charm and mystery into creation by singing about it, interpreting it, by
admiring it as a poet, idealizing it as an artist and by explaining it
through science, doubtless making mistakes, but finding ingenious
reasons, hidden grace and beauty, unknown charm and mystery in the
various phenomena of Nature. God created only coarse beings, full of the
germs of disease, who, after a few years of bestial enjoyment, grow old
and infirm, with all the ugliness and all the want of power of human
decrepitude. He seems to have made them only in order that they may
reproduce their species in an ignoble manner and then die like ephemeral
insects. I said reproduce their species in an ignoble manner and I
adhere to that expression. What is there as a matter of fact more
ignoble and more repugnant than that act of reproduction of living
beings, against which all delicate minds always have revolted and always
will revolt? Since all the organs which have been invented by this
economical and malicious Creator serve two purposes, why did He not
choose another method of performing that sacred mission, which is the
noblest and the most exalted of all human functions? The mouth, which
nourishes the body by means of material food, also diffuses abroad speech
and thought. Our flesh renews itself of its own accord, while we are
thinking about it. The olfactory organs, through which the vital air
reaches the lungs, communicate all the perfumes of the world to the
brain: the smell of flowers, of woods, of trees, of the sea. The ear,
which enables us to communicate with our fellow men, has also allowed us
to invent music, to create dreams, happiness, infinite and even physical
pleasure by means of sound! But one might say that the cynical and
cunning Creator wished to prohibit man from ever ennobling and idealizing
his intercourse with women. Nevertheless man has found love, which is
not a bad reply to that sly Deity, and he has adorned it with so much
poetry that woman often forgets the sensual part of it. Those among us
who are unable to deceive themselves have invented vice and refined
debauchery, which is another way of laughing at God and paying homage,
immodest homage, to beauty.
"But the normal man begets children just like an animal coupled with
another by law.
"Look at that woman! Is it not abominable to think that such a jewel,
such a pearl, born to be beautiful, admired, feted and adored, has spent
eleven years of her life in providing heirs for the Comte de Mascaret?"
Bernard Grandin replied with a laugh: "There is a great deal of truth in
all that, but very few people would understand you."
Salnis became more and more animated. "Do you know how I picture God
myself?" he said. "As an enormous, creative organ beyond our ken, who
scatters millions of worlds into space, just as one single fish would
deposit its spawn in the sea. He creates because it is His function as
God to do so, but He does not know what He is doing and is stupidly
prolific in His work and is ignorant of the combinations of all kinds
which are produced by His scattered germs. The human mind is a lucky
little local, passing accident which was totally unforeseen, and
condemned to disappear with this earth and to recommence perhaps here or
elsewhere the same or different with fresh combinations of eternally new
beginnings. We owe it to this little lapse of intelligence on His part
that we are very uncomfortable in this world which was not made for us,
which had not been prepared to receive us, to lodge and feed us or to
satisfy reflecting beings, and we owe it to Him also that we have to
struggle without ceasing against what are still called the designs of
Providence, when we are really refined and civilized beings."
Grandin, who was listening to him attentively as he had long known the
surprising outbursts of his imagination, asked him: "Then you believe
that human thought is the spontaneous product of blind divine
"Naturally! A fortuitous function of the nerve centres of our brain,
like the unforeseen chemical action due to new mixtures and similar also
to a charge of electricity, caused by friction or the unexpected
proximity of some substance, similar to all phenomena caused by the
infinite and fruitful fermentation of living matter.
"But, my dear fellow, the truth of this must be evident to any one who
looks about him. If the human mind, ordained by an omniscient Creator,
had been intended to be what it has become, exacting, inquiring,
agitated, tormented--so different from mere animal thought and
resignation--would the world which was created to receive the beings
which we now are have been this unpleasant little park for small game,
this salad patch, this wooded, rocky and spherical kitchen garden where
your improvident Providence had destined us to live naked, in caves or
under trees, nourished on the flesh of slaughtered animals, our brethren,
or on raw vegetables nourished by the sun and the rain?
"But it is sufficient to reflect for a moment, in order to understand
that this world was not made for such creatures as we are. Thought,
which is developed by a miracle in the nerves of the cells in our brain,
powerless, ignorant and confused as it is, and as it will always remain,
makes all of us who are intellectual beings eternal and wretched exiles
"Look at this earth, as God has given it to those who inhabit it. Is it
not visibly and solely made, planted and covered with forests for the
sake of animals? What is there for us? Nothing. And for them,
everything, and they have nothing to do but to eat or go hunting and eat
each other, according to their instincts, for God never foresaw
gentleness and peaceable manners; He only foresaw the death of creatures
which were bent on destroying and devouring each other. Are not the
quail, the pigeon and the partridge the natural prey of the hawk? the
sheep, the stag and the ox that of the great flesh-eating animals, rather
than meat to be fattened and served up to us with truffles, which have
been unearthed by pigs for our special benefit?
"As to ourselves, the more civilized, intellectual and refined we are,
the more we ought to conquer and subdue that animal instinct, which
represents the will of God in us. And so, in order to mitigate our lot
as brutes, we have discovered and made everything, beginning with houses,
then exquisite food, sauces, sweetmeats, pastry, drink, stuffs, clothes,
ornaments, beds, mattresses, carriages, railways and innumerable
machines, besides arts and sciences, writing and poetry. Every ideal
comes from us as do all the amenities of life, in order to make our
existence as simple reproducers, for which divine Providence solely
intended us, less monotonous and less hard.
"Look at this theatre. Is there not here a human world created by us,
unforeseen and unknown to eternal fate, intelligible to our minds alone,
a sensual and intellectual distraction, which has been invented solely by
and for that discontented and restless little animal, man?
"Look at that woman, Madame de Mascaret. God intended her to live in a
cave, naked or wrapped up in the skins of wild animals. But is she not
better as she is? But, speaking of her, does any one know why and how
her brute of a husband, having such a companion by his side, and
especially after having been boorish enough to make her a mother seven
times, has suddenly left her, to run after bad women?"
Grandin replied: "Oh! my dear fellow, this is probably the only reason.
He found that raising a family was becoming too expensive, and from
reasons of domestic economy he has arrived at the same principles which
you lay down as a philosopher."
Just then the curtain rose for the third act, and they turned round, took
off their hats and sat down.
The Comte and Comtesse Mascaret were sitting side by side in the carriage
which was taking them home from the Opera, without speaking but suddenly
the husband said to his wife: "Gabrielle!"
"What do you want?"
"Don't you think that this has lasted long enough?"
"The horrible punishment to which you have condemned me for the last six
"What do you want? I cannot help it."
"Then tell me which of them it is."
"Think that I can no longer see my children or feel them round me,
without having my heart burdened with this doubt. Tell me which of them
it is, and I swear that I will forgive you and treat it like the others."
"I have not the right to do so."
"Do you not see that I can no longer endure this life, this thought which
is wearing me out, or this question which I am constantly asking myself,
this question which tortures me each time I look at them? It is driving
"Then you have suffered a great deal?" she said.
"Terribly. Should I, without that, have accepted the horror of living by
your side, and the still greater horror of feeling and knowing that there
is one among them whom I cannot recognize and who prevents me from loving
"Then you have really suffered very much?" she repeated.
And he replied in a constrained and sorrowful voice:
"Yes, for do I not tell you every day that it is intolerable torture to
me? Should I have remained in that house, near you and them, if I did
not love them? Oh! You have behaved abominably toward me. All the
affection of my heart I have bestowed upon my children, and that you
know. I am for them a father of the olden time, as I was for you a
husband of one of the families of old, for by instinct I have remained a
natural man, a man of former days. Yes, I will confess it, you have made
me terribly jealous, because you are a woman of another race, of another
soul, with other requirements. Oh! I shall never forget the things you
said to me, but from that day I troubled myself no more about you. I did
not kill you, because then I should have had no means on earth of ever
discovering which of our--of your children is not mine. I have waited,
but I have suffered more than you would believe, for I can no longer
venture to love them, except, perhaps, the two eldest; I no longer
venture to look at them, to call them to me, to kiss them; I cannot take
them on my knee without asking myself, 'Can it be this one?' I have been
correct in my behavior toward you for six years, and even kind and
complaisant. Tell me the truth, and I swear that I will do nothing
He thought, in spite of the darkness of the carriage, that he could
perceive that she was moved, and feeling certain that she was going to
speak at last, he said: "I beg you, I beseech you to tell me" he said.
"I have been more guilty than you think perhaps," she replied, "but I
could no longer endure that life of continual motherhood, and I had only
one means of driving you from me. I lied before God and I lied, with my
hand raised to my children's head, for I never have wronged you."
He seized her arm in the darkness, and squeezing it as he had done on
that terrible day of their drive in the Bois de Boulogne, he stammered:
"Is that true?"
"It is true."
But, wild with grief, he said with a groan: "I shall have fresh doubts
that will never end! When did you lie, the last time or now? How am I
to believe you at present? How can one believe a woman after that? I
shall never again know what I am to think. I would rather you had said
to me, 'It is Jacques or it is Jeanne.'"
The carriage drove into the courtyard of the house and when it had drawn
up in front of the steps the count alighted first, as usual, and offered
his wife his arm to mount the stairs. As soon as they reached the first
floor he said: "May I speak to you for a few moments longer?" And she
replied, "I am quite willing."
They went into a small drawing-room and a footman, in some surprise,
lighted the wax candles. As soon as he had left the room and they were
alone the count continued: "How am I to know the truth? I have begged you
a thousand times to speak, but you have remained dumb, impenetrable,
inflexible, inexorable, and now to-day you tell me that you have been
lying. For six years you have actually allowed me to believe such a
thing! No, you are lying now, I do not know why, but out of pity for me,
She replied in a sincere and convincing manner: "If I had not done so, I
should have had four more children in the last six years!"
"Can a mother speak like that?"
"Oh!" she replied, "I do not feel that I am the mother of children who
never have been born; it is enough for me to be the mother of those that
I have and to love them with all my heart. I am a woman of the civilized
world, monsieur--we all are--and we are no longer, and we refuse to be,
mere females to restock the earth."
She got up, but he seized her hands. "Only one word, Gabrielle. Tell me
"I have just told you. I never have dishonored you."
He looked her full in the face, and how beautiful she was, with her gray
eyes, like the cold sky. In her dark hair sparkled the diamond coronet,
like a radiance. He suddenly felt, felt by a kind of intuition, that
this grand creature was not merely a being destined to perpetuate the
race, but the strange and mysterious product of all our complicated
desires which have been accumulating in us for centuries but which have
been turned aside from their primitive and divine object and have
wandered after a mystic, imperfectly perceived and intangible beauty.
There are some women like that, who blossom only for our dreams, adorned
with every poetical attribute of civilization, with that ideal luxury,
coquetry and esthetic charm which surround woman, a living statue that
brightens our life.
Her husband remained standing before her, stupefied at his tardy and
obscure discovery, confusedly hitting on the cause of his former jealousy
and understanding it all very imperfectly, and at last lie said: "I
believe you, for I feel at this moment that you are not lying, and before
I really thought that you were."
She put out her hand to him: "We are friends then?"
He took her hand and kissed it and replied: "We are friends. Thank you,
Then he went out, still looking at her, and surprised that she was still
so beautiful and feeling a strange emotion arising in him.
He was a clerk in the Bureau of Public Education and lived at
Batignolles. He took the omnibus to Paris every morning and always sat
opposite a girl, with whom he fell in love.
She was employed in a shop and went in at the same time every day. She
was a little brunette, one of those girls whose eyes are so dark that
they look like black spots, on a complexion like ivory. He always saw
her coming at the corner of the same street, and she generally had to run
to catch the heavy vehicle, and sprang upon the steps before the horses
had quite stopped. Then she got inside, out of breath, and, sitting
down, looked round her.
The first time that he saw her, Francois Tessier liked the face. One
sometimes meets a woman whom one longs to clasp in one's arms without
even knowing her. That girl seemed to respond to some chord in his
being, to that sort of ideal of love which one cherishes in the depths of
the heart, without knowing it.
He looked at her intently, not meaning to be rude, and she became
embarrassed and blushed. He noticed it, and tried to turn away his eyes;
but he involuntarily fixed them upon her again every moment, although he
tried to look in another direction; and, in a few days, they seemed to
know each other without having spoken. He gave up his place to her when
the omnibus was full, and got outside, though he was very sorry to do it.
By this time she had got so far as to greet him with a little smile; and,
although she always dropped her eyes under his looks, which she felt were
too ardent, yet she did not appear offended at being looked at in such a
They ended by speaking. A kind of rapid friendship had become
established between them, a daily freemasonry of half an hour, and that
was certainly one of the most charming half hours in his life to him.
He thought of her all the rest of the day, saw her image continually
during the long office hours. He was haunted and bewitched by that
floating and yet tenacious recollection which the form of a beloved woman
leaves in us, and it seemed to him that if he could win that little
person it would be maddening happiness to him, almost above human
Every morning she now shook hands with him, and he preserved the sense of
that touch and the recollection of the gentle pressure of her little
fingers until the next day, and he almost fancied that he preserved the
imprint on his palm. He anxiously waited for this short omnibus ride,
while Sundays seemed to him heartbreaking days. However, there was no
doubt that she loved him, for one Saturday, in spring, she promised to go
and lunch with him at Maisons-Laffitte the next day.
She was at the railway station first, which surprised him, but she said:
"Before going, I want to speak to you. We have twenty minutes, and that
is more than I shall take for what I have to say."
She trembled as she hung on his arm, and looked down, her cheeks pale, as
she continued: "I do not want you to be deceived in me, and I shall not
go there with you, unless you promise, unless you swear--not to do--not
to do anything--that is at all improper."
She had suddenly become as red as a poppy, and said no more. He did not
know what to reply, for he was happy and disappointed at the same time.
He should love her less, certainly, if he knew that her conduct was
light, but then it would be so charming, so delicious to have a little
As he did not say anything, she began to speak again in an agitated voice
and with tears in her eyes. "If you do not promise to respect me
altogether, I shall return home." And so he squeezed her arm tenderly
and replied: "I promise, you shall only do what you like." She appeared
relieved in mind, and asked, with a smile: "Do you really mean it?" And
he looked into her eyes and replied: "I swear it" "Now you may take the
tickets," she said.
During the journey they could hardly speak, as the carriage was full, and
when they reached Maisons-Laffite they went toward the Seine. The sun,
which shone full on the river, on the leaves and the grass, seemed to be
reflected in their hearts, and they went, hand in hand, along the bank,
looking at the shoals of little fish swimming near the bank, and they
walked on, brimming over with happiness, as if they were walking on air.
At last she said: "How foolish you must think me!"
"Why?" he asked. "To come out like this, all alone with you."
"Certainly not; it is quite natural." "No, no; it is not natural for me
--because I do not wish to commit a fault, and yet this is how girls
fall. But if you only knew how wretched it is, every day the same thing,
every day in the month and every month in the year. I live quite alone
with mamma, and as she has had a great deal of trouble, she is not very
cheerful. I do the best I can, and try to laugh in spite of everything,
but I do not always succeed. But, all the same, it was wrong in me to
come, though you, at any rate, will not be sorry."
By way of an answer, he kissed her ardently on the ear that was nearest
him, but she moved from him with an abrupt movement, and, getting
suddenly angry, exclaimed: "Oh! Monsieur Francois, after what you swore
to me!" And they went back to Maisons-Laffitte.
They had lunch at the Petit-Havre, a low house, buried under four
enormous poplar trees, by the side of the river. The air, the heat, the
weak white wine and the sensation of being so close together made them
silent; their faces were flushed and they had a feeling of oppression;
but, after the coffee, they regained their high spirits, and, having
crossed the Seine, started off along the bank, toward the village of La
Frette. Suddenly he asked: "What-is your name?"
"Louise," he repeated and said nothing more.
The girl picked daisies and made them into a great bunch, while he sang
vigorously, as unrestrained as a colt that has been turned into a meadow.
On their left a vine-covered slope followed the river. Francois stopped
motionless with astonishment: "Oh, look there!" he said.
The vines had come to an end, and the whole slope was covered with lilac
bushes in flower. It was a purple wood! A kind of great carpet of
flowers stretched over the earth, reaching as far as the village, more
than two miles off. She also stood, surprised and delighted, and
murmured: "Oh! how pretty!" And, crossing a meadow, they ran toward
that curious low hill, which, every year, furnishes all the lilac that is
drawn through Paris on the carts of the flower venders.
There was a narrow path beneath the trees, so they took it, and when they
came to a small clearing, sat down.
Swarms of flies were buzzing around them and making a continuous, gentle
sound, and the sun, the bright sun of a perfectly still day, shone over
the bright slopes and from that forest of blossoms a powerful fragrance
was borne toward them, a breath of perfume, the breath of the flowers.
A church clock struck in the distance, and they embraced gently, then,
without the knowledge of anything but that kiss, lay down on the grass.
But she soon came to herself with the feeling of a great misfortune, and
began to cry and sob with grief, with her face buried in her hands.
He tried to console her, but she wanted to start to return and to go home
immediately; and she kept saying, as she walked along quickly: "Good
heavens! good heavens!"
He said to her: "Louise! Louise! Please let us stop here." But now her
cheeks were red and her eyes hollow, and, as soon as they got to the
railway station in Paris, she left him without even saying good-by.
When he met her in the omnibus, next day, she appeared to him to be
changed and thinner, and she said to him: "I want to speak to you; we
will get down at the Boulevard."
As soon as they were on the pavement, she said:
"We must bid each other good-by; I cannot meet you again." "But why?" he
asked. "Because I cannot; I have been culpable, and I will not be so
Then he implored her, tortured by his love, but she replied firmly: "No,
I cannot, I cannot." He, however, only grew all the more excited and
promised to marry her, but she said again: "No," and left him.
For a week he did not see her. He could not manage to meet her, and, as
he did not know her address, he thought that he had lost her altogether.
On the ninth day, however, there was a ring at his bell, and when he
opened the door, she was there. She threw herself into his arms and did
not resist any longer, and for three months they were close friends.
He was beginning to grow tired of her, when she whispered something to
him, and then he had one idea and wish: to break with her at any price.
As, however, he could not do that, not knowing how to begin, or what to
say, full of anxiety through fear of the consequences of his rash
indiscretion, he took a decisive step: one night he changed his lodgings
The blow was so heavy that she did not look, for the man who had
abandoned her, but threw herself at her mother's knees and confessed her
misfortune, and, some months after, gave birth to a boy.
Years passed, and Francois Tessier grew old, without there having been
any alteration in his life. He led the dull, monotonous life of an
office clerk, without hope and without expectation. Every day he got up
at the same time, went through the same streets, went through the same
door, past the same porter, went into the same office, sat in the same
chair, and did the same work. He was alone in the world, alone during
the day in the midst of his different colleagues, and alone at night in
his bachelor's lodgings, and he laid by a hundred francs a month against
Every Sunday he went to the Champs-Elysees, to watch the elegant people,
the carriages and the pretty women, and the next day he used to say to
one of his colleagues: "The return of the carriages from the Bois du
Boulogne was very brilliant yesterday." One fine Sunday morning,
however, he went into the Parc Monceau, where the mothers and nurses,
sitting on the sides of the walks, watched the children playing, and
suddenly Francois Tessier started. A woman passed by, holding two
children by the hand, a little boy of about ten and a little girl of
four. It was she!
He walked another hundred yards anti then fell into a chair, choking with
emotion. She had not recognized him, and so he came back, wishing to see
her again. She was sitting down now, and the boy was standing by her
side very quietly, while the little girl was making sand castles. It was
she, it was certainly she, but she had the reserved appearance of a lady,
was dressed simply, and looked self-possessed and dignified. He looked
at her from a distance, for he did not venture to go near; but the little
boy raised his head, and Francois Tessier felt himself tremble. It was
his own son, there could be no doubt of that. And, as he looked at him,
he thought he could recognize himself as he appeared in an old photograph
taken years ago. He remained hidden behind a tree, waiting for her to go
that he might follow her.
He did not sleep that night. The idea of the child especially tormented
him. His son! Oh, if he could only have known, have been sure! But
what could he have done? However, he went to the house where she lived
and asked about her. He was told that a neighbor, an honorable man of
strict morals, had been touched by her distress and had married her; he
knew the fault she had committed and had married her, and had even
recognized the child, his, Francois Tessier's child, as his own.
He returned to the Parc Monceau every Sunday, for then he always saw her,
and each time he was seized with a mad, an irresistible longing to take
his son into his arms, to cover him with kisses and to steal him, to
carry him off.
He suffered horribly in his wretched isolation as an old bachelor, with
nobody to care for him, and he also suffered atrocious mental torture,
torn by paternal tenderness springing from remorse, longing and jealousy
and from that need of loving one's own children which nature has
implanted in all. At last he determined to make a despairing attempt,
and, going up to her, as she entered the park, he said, standing in the
middle of the path, pale and with trembling lips: "You do not recognize
me." She raised her eyes, looked at him, uttered an exclamation of
horror, of terror, and, taking the two children by the hand, she rushed
away, dragging them after her, while he went home and wept inconsolably.
Months passed without his seeing her again, but he suffered, day and
night, for he was a prey to his paternal love. He would gladly have
died, if he could only have kissed his son; he would have committed
murder, performed any task, braved any danger, ventured anything. He
wrote to her, but she did not reply, and, after writing her some twenty
letters, he saw that there was no hope of altering her determination, and
then he formed the desperate resolution of writing to her husband, being
quite prepared to receive a bullet from a revolver, if need be. His
letter only consisted of a few lines, as follows:
"Monsieur: You must have a perfect horror of my name, but I am so
wretched, so overcome by misery that my only hope is in you, and,
therefore, I venture to request you to grant me an interview of only five
"I have the honor, etc."
The next day he received the reply:
"Monsieur: I shall expect you to-morrow, Tuesday, at five o'clock."
As he went up the staircase, Francois Tessier's heart beat so violently
that he had to stop several times. There was a dull and violent thumping
noise in his breast, as of some animal galloping; and he could breathe
only with difficulty, and had to hold on to the banisters, in order not
He rang the bell on the third floor, and when a maid servant had opened
the door, he asked: "Does Monsieur Flamel live here?" "Yes, monsieur.
Kindly come in."
He was shown into the drawing-room; he was alone, and waited, feeling
bewildered, as in the midst of a catastrophe, until a door opened, and a
man came in. He was tall, serious and rather stout, and wore a black
frock coat, and pointed to a chair with his hand. Francois Tessier sat
down, and then said, with choking breath: "Monsieur--monsieur--I do not
know whether you know my name--whether you know----"
Monsieur Flamel interrupted him. "You need not tell it me, monsieur, I
know it. My wife has spoken to me about you." He spoke in the dignified
tone of voice of a good man who wishes to be severe, and with the
commonplace stateliness of an honorable man, and Francois Tessier
"Well, monsieur, I want to say this: I am dying of grief, of remorse, of
shame, and I would like once, only once to kiss the child."
Monsieur Flamel got up and rang the bell, and when the servant came in,
he said: "Will you bring Louis here?" When she had gone out, they
remained face to face, without speaking, as they had nothing more to say
to one another, and waited. Then, suddenly, a little boy of ten rushed
into the room and ran up to the man whom he believed to be his father,
but he stopped when he saw the stranger, and Monsieur Flamel kissed him
and said: "Now, go and kiss that gentleman, my dear." And the child went
up to the stranger and looked at him.
Francois Tessier had risen. He let his hat fall, and was ready to fall
himself as he looked at his son, while Monsieur Flamel had turned away,
from a feeling of delicacy, and was looking out of the window.
The child waited in surprise; but he picked up the hat and gave it to the
stranger. Then Francois, taking the child up in his arms, began to kiss
him wildly all over his face; on his eyes, his cheeks, his mouth, his
hair; and the youngster, frightened at the shower of kisses, tried to
avoid them, turned away his head, and pushed away the man's face with his
little hands. But suddenly Francois Tessier put him down and cried:
"Good-by! good-by!" And he rushed out of the room as if he had been a
MY UNCLE SOSTHENES
Some people are Freethinkers from sheer stupidity. My Uncle Sosthenes
was one of these. Some people are often religious for the same reason.
The very sight of a priest threw my uncle into a violent rage. He would
shake his fist and make grimaces at him, and would then touch a piece of
iron when the priest's back was turned, forgetting that the latter action
showed a belief after all, the belief in the evil eye. Now, when beliefs
are unreasonable, one should have all or none at all. I myself am a
Freethinker; I revolt at all dogmas, but feel no anger toward places of
worship, be they Catholic, Apostolic, Roman, Protestant, Greek, Russian,
Buddhist, Jewish, or Mohammedan.
My uncle was a Freemason, and I used to declare that they are stupider
than old women devotees. That is my opinion, and I maintain it; if we
must have any religion at all, the old one is good enough for me.
What is their object? Mutual help to be obtained by tickling the palms
of each other's hands. I see no harm in it, for they put into practice
the Christian precept: "Do unto others as ye would they should do unto
you." The only difference consists in the tickling, but it does not seem
worth while to make such a fuss about lending a poor devil half a crown.
To all my arguments my uncle's reply used to be:
"We are raising up a religion against a religion; Free Thought will kill
clericalism. Freemasonry is the stronghold, of those who are demolishing
"Very well, my dear uncle," I would reply--in my heart I felt inclined to
say, "You old idiot! it is just that which I am blaming you for. Instead
of destroying, you are organizing competition; it is only a case of
lowering prices. And then, if you admitted only Freethinkers among you,
I could understand it, but you admit anybody. You have a number of
Catholics among you, even the leaders of the party. Pius IX is said to
have been one of you before he became pope. If you call a society with
such an organization a bulwark against clericalism, I think it is an
extremely weak one."
"My dear boy," my uncle would reply, with a wink, "we are most to be
dreaded in politics; slowly and surely we are everywhere undermining the
Then I broke out: "Yes, you are very clever! If you tell me that
Freemasonry is an election machine, I will grant it. I will never deny
that it is used as a machine to control candidates of all shades; if you
say that it is only used to hoodwink people, to drill them to go to the
polls as soldiers are sent under fire, I agree with you; if you declare
that it is indispensable to all political ambitions because it changes
all its members into electoral agents, I should say to you: 'That is as
clear as the sun.' But when you tell me that it serves to undermine the
monarchical spirit, I can only laugh in your face.
"Just consider that gigantic and secret democratic association which had
Prince Napoleon for its grand master under the Empire; which has the
Crown Prince for its grand master in Germany, the Czar's brother in
Russia, and to which the Prince of Wales and King Humbert, and nearly all
the crowned heads of the globe belong."
"You are quite right," my uncle said; "but all these persons are serving
our projects without guessing it."
I felt inclined to tell him he was talking a pack of nonsense.
It was, however, indeed a sight to see my uncle when he had a Freemason
On meeting they shook hands in a manner that was irresistibly funny; one
could see that they were going through a series of secret, mysterious
Then my uncle would take his friend into a corner to tell him something
important, and at dinner they had a peculiar way of looking at each
other, and of drinking to each other, in a manner as if to say: "We know
all about it, don't we?"
And to think that there are millions on the face of the globe who are
amused at such monkey tricks! I would sooner be a Jesuit.
Now, in our town there really was an old Jesuit who was my uncle's
detestation. Every time he met him, or if he only saw him at a distance,
he used to say: "Get away, you toad." And then, taking my arm, he would
whisper to me:
"See here, that fellow will play me a trick some day or other, I feel
sure of it."
My uncle spoke quite truly, and this was how it happened, and through my
It was close on Holy Week, and my uncle made up his mind to give a dinner
on Good Friday, a real dinner, with his favorite chitterlings and black
puddings. I resisted as much as I could, and said:
"I shall eat meat on that day, but at home, quite by myself. Your
manifestation, as you call it, is an idiotic idea. Why should you
manifest? What does it matter to you if people do not eat any meat?"
But my uncle would not be persuaded. He asked three of his friends to
dine with him at one of the best restaurants in the town, and as he was
going to pay the bill I had certainly, after all, no scruples about
At four o'clock we took a conspicuous place in the most frequented
restaurant in the town, and my uncle ordered dinner in a loud voice for
We sat down punctually, and at ten o'clock we had not yet finished. Five
of us had drunk eighteen bottles of choice, still wine and four of
champagne. Then my uncle proposed what he was in the habit of calling
"the archbishop's circuit." Each man put six small glasses in front of
him, each of them filled with a different liqueur, and they had all to be
emptied at one gulp, one after another, while one of the waiters counted
twenty. It was very stupid, but my uncle thought it was very suitable to
At eleven o'clock he was as drunk as a fly. So we had to take him home
in a cab and put him to bed, and one could easily foresee that his anti-
clerical demonstration would end in a terrible fit of indigestion.
As I was going back to my lodgings, being rather drunk myself, with a
cheerful drunkenness, a Machiavellian idea struck me which satisfied all
my sceptical instincts.
I arranged my necktie, put on a look of great distress, and went and,
rang loudly at the old Jesuit's door. As he was deaf he made me wait a
longish while, but at length appeared at his window in a cotton nightcap
and asked what I wanted.
I shouted out at the top of my voice:
"Make haste, reverend sir, and open the door; a poor, despairing, sick
man is in need of your spiritual ministrations."
The good, kind man put on his trousers as quickly as he could, and came
down without his cassock. I told him in a breathless voice that my
uncle, the Freethinker, had been taken suddenly ill, and fearing it was
going to be something serious, he had been seized with a sudden dread of
death, and wished to see the priest and talk to him; to have his advice
and comfort, to make his peace with the Church, and to confess, so as to
be able to cross the dreaded threshold at peace with himself; and I added
in a mocking tone:
"At any rate, he wishes it, and if it does him no good it can do him no
The old Jesuit, who was startled, delighted, and almost trembling, said
"Wait a moment, my son; I will come with you." But I replied: "Pardon
me, reverend father, if I do not go with you; but my convictions will not
allow me to do so. I even refused to come and fetch you, so I beg you
not to say that you have seen me, but to declare that you had a
presentiment--a sort of revelation of his illness."
The priest consented and went off quickly; knocked at my uncle's door,
and was soon let in; and I saw the black cassock disappear within that
stronghold of Free Thought.
I hid under a neighboring gateway to wait results. Had he been well, my
uncle would have half-murdered the Jesuit, but I knew that he would
scarcely be able to move an arm, and I asked myself gleefully what sort
of a scene would take place between these antagonists, what disputes,
what arguments, what a hubbub, and what would be the issue of the
situation, which my uncle's indignation would render still more tragic?
I laughed till my sides ached, and said half aloud: "Oh, what a joke,
what a joke!"
Meanwhile it was getting very cold, and I noticed that the Jesuit stayed
a long time, and I thought: "They are having an argument, I suppose."
One, two, three hours passed, and still the reverend father did not come
out. What had happened? Had my uncle died in a fit when he saw him, or
had he killed the cassocked gentleman? Perhaps they had mutually
devoured each other? This last supposition appeared very unlikely, for I
fancied that my uncle was quite incapable of swallowing a grain more
nourishment at that moment.
At last the day broke.
I was very uneasy, and, not venturing to go into the house myself, went
to one of my friends who lived opposite. I woke him up, explained
matters to him, much to his amusement and astonishment, and took
possession of his window.
At nine o'clock he relieved me, and I got a little sleep. At two o'clock
I, in my turn, replaced him. We were utterly astonished.
At six o'clock the Jesuit left, with a very happy and satisfied look on
his face, and we saw him go away with a quiet step.
Then, timid and ashamed, I went and knocked at the door of my uncle's
house; and when the servant opened it I did not dare to ask her any
questions, but went upstairs without saying a word.
My uncle was lying, pale and exhausted, with weary, sorrowful eyes and
heavy arms, on his bed. A little religious picture was fastened to one
of the bed curtains with a pin.
"Why, uncle," I said, "in bed still? Are you not well?"
He replied in a feeble voice:
"Oh, my dear boy, I have been very ill, nearly dead."
"How was that, uncle?"
"I don't know; it was most surprising. But what is stranger still is
that the Jesuit priest who has just left--you know, that excellent man
whom I have made such fun of--had a divine revelation of my state, and
came to see me."
I was seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to laugh, and with
difficulty said: "Oh, really!"
"Yes, he came. He heard a voice telling him to get up and come to me,
because I was going to die. I was a revelation."
I pretended to sneeze, so as not to burst out laughing; I felt inclined
to roll on the ground with amusement.
In about a minute I managed to say indignantly:
"And you received him, uncle? You, a Freethinker, a Freemason? You did
not have him thrown out of doors?"
He seemed confused, and stammered:
"Listen a moment, it is so astonishing--so astonishing and providential!
He also spoke to me about my father; it seems he knew him formerly."
"Your father, uncle? But that is no reason for receiving a Jesuit."
"I know that, but I was very ill, and he looked after me most devotedly
all night long. He was perfect; no doubt he saved my life; those men all
know a little of medicine."
"Oh! he looked after you all night? But you said just now that he had
only been gone a very short time."
"That is quite true; I kept him to breakfast after all his kindness. He
had it at a table by my bedside while I drank a cup of tea."
"And he ate meat?"
My uncle looked vexed, as if I had said something very uncalled for, and
"Don't joke, Gaston; such things are out of place at times. He has shown
me more devotion than many a relation would have done, and I expect to
have his convictions respected."
This rather upset me, but I answered, nevertheless: "Very well, uncle;
and what did you do after breakfast?"
"We played a game of bezique, and then he repeated his breviary while I
read a little book which he happened to have in his pocket, and which was
not by any means badly written."
"A religious book, uncle?"
"Yes, and no, or, rather--no. It is the history of their missions in
Central Africa, and is rather a book of travels and adventures. What
these men have done is very grand."
I began to feel that matters were going badly, so I got up. "Well, good-
by, uncle," I said, "I see you are going to give up Freemasonry for
religion; you are a renegade."
He was still rather confused, and stammered:
"Well, but religion is a sort of Freemasonry."
"When is your Jesuit coming back?" I asked.
"I don't--I don't know exactly; to-morrow, perhaps; but it is not
I went out, altogether overwhelmed.
My joke turned out very badly for me! My uncle became thoroughly
converted, and if that had been all I should not have cared so much.
Clerical or Freemason, to me it is all the same; six of one and half a
dozen of the other; but the worst of it is that he has just made his
will--yes, made his will--and he has disinherited me in favor of that
"Come with me," said my friend Boisrene, "you will see some very
interesting bric-a-brac and works of art there."
He conducted me to the first floor of an elegant house in one of the big
streets of Paris. We were welcomed by a very pleasing man, with
excellent manners, who led us from room to room, showing us rare things,
the price of which he mentioned carelessly. Large sums, ten, twenty,
thirty, fifty thousand francs, dropped from his lips with such grace and
ease that one could not doubt that this gentleman-merchant had millions
shut up in his safe.
I had known him by reputation for a long time Very bright, clever,
intelligent, he acted as intermediary in all sorts of transactions. He
kept in touch with all the richest art amateurs in Paris, and even of
Europe and America, knowing their tastes and preferences; he apprised
them by letter, or by wire if they lived in a distant city, as soon as he
knew of some work of art which might suit them.
Men of the best society had had recourse to him in times of difficulty,
either to find money for gambling, or to pay off a debt, or to sell a
picture, a family jewel, or a tapestry.
It was said that he never refused his services when he saw a chance of
Boisrene seemed very intimate with this strange merchant. They must have
worked together in many a deal. I observed the man with great interest.
He was tall, thin, bald, and very elegant. His soft, insinuating voice
had a peculiar, tempting charm which seemed to give the objects a special
value. When he held anything in his hands, he turned it round and round,
looking at it with such skill, refinement, and sympathy that the object
seemed immediately to be beautiful and transformed by his look and touch.
And its value increased in one's estimation, after the object had passed
from the showcase into his hands.
"And your Crucifix," said Boisrene, "that beautiful Renaissance Crucifix
which you showed me last year?"
The man smiled and answered:
"It has been sold, and in a very peculiar manner. There is a real
Parisian story for you! Would you like to hear it?"
"Do you know the Baroness Samoris?"
"Yes and no. I have seen her once, but I know what she is!"
"Would you mind telling me, so that I can see whether you are not
"Certainly. Mme. Samoris is a woman of the world who has a daughter,
without anyone having known her husband. At any rate, she is received in
a certain tolerant, or blind society. She goes to church and devoutly
partakes of Communion, so that everyone may know it, and she never
compromises herself. She expects her daughter to marry well. Is that
"Yes, but I will complete your information. She is a woman who makes
herself respected by her admirers in spite of everything. That is a rare
quality, for in this manner she can get what she wishes from a man. The
man whom she has chosen without his suspecting it courts her for a long
time, longs for her timidly, wins her with astonishment and possesses her
with consideration. He does not notice that he is paying, she is so
tactful; and she maintains her relations on such a footing of reserve and
dignity that he would slap the first man who dared doubt her in the
least. And all this in the best of faith.
"Several times I have been able to render little services to this woman.
She has no secrets from me.
"Toward the beginning of January she came to me in order to borrow thirty
thousand francs. Naturally, I did not lend them to her; but, as I wished
to oblige her, I told her to explain her situation to me completely, so
that I might see whether there was not something I could do for her.
"She told me her troubles in such cautious language that she could not
have spoken more delicately of her child's first communion. I finally
managed to understand that times were hard, and that she was penniless.
"The commercial crisis, political unrest, rumors of war, had made money
scarce even in the hands of her clients. And then, of course, she was
"She would associate only with a man in the best of society, who could
strengthen her reputation as well as help her financially. A reveller,
no matter how rich, would have compromised her forever, and would have
made the marriage of her daughter quite doubtful.
"She had to maintain her household expenses and continue to entertain, in
order not to lose the opportunity of finding, among her numerous
visitors, the discreet and distinguished friend for whom she was waiting,
and whom she would choose.
"I showed her that my thirty thousand francs would have but little
likelihood of returning to me; for, after spending them all, she would
have to find at least sixty thousand more, in a lump, to pay me back.
"She seemed very disheartened when she heard this. I did not know just
what to do, when an idea, a really fine idea, struck me.
"I had just bought this Renaissance Crucifix which I showed you, an
admirable piece of workmanship, one of the finest of its land that I have
"'My dear friend,' I said to her, 'I am going to send you that piece of
ivory. You will invent some ingenious, touching, poetic story, anything
that you wish, to explain your desire for parting with it. It is, of
course, a family heirloom left you by your father.
"'I myself will send you amateurs, or will bring them to you. The rest
concerns you. Before they come I will drop you a line about their
position, both social and financial. This Crucifix is worth fifty
thousand francs; but I will let it go for thirty thousand. The
difference will belong to you.'
"She considered the matter seriously for several minutes, and then
answered: 'Yes, it is, perhaps, a good idea. I thank you very-much.'
"The next day I sent her my Crucifix, and the same evening the Baron de
"For three months I sent her my best clients, from a business point of
view. But I heard nothing more from her.
"One day I received a visit from a foreigner who spoke very little
French. I decided to introduce him personally to the baroness, in order
to see how she was getting along.
"A footman in black livery received us and ushered us into a quiet little
parlor, furnished with taste, where we waited for several minutes. She
appeared, charming as usual, extended her hand to me and invited us to be
seated; and when I had explained the reason of my visit, she rang.
"The footman appeared.
"'See if Mlle. Isabelle can let us go into her oratory.' The young girl
herself brought the answer. She was about fifteen years of age, modest
and good to look upon in the sweet freshness of her youth. She wished to
conduct us herself to her chapel.
"It was a kind of religious boudoir where a silver lamp was burning
before the Crucifix, my Crucifix, on a background of black velvet. The
setting was charming and very clever. The child crossed herself and then
"'Look, gentlemen. Isn't it beautiful?'
"I took the object, examined it and declared it to be remarkable. The
foreigner also examined it, but he seemed much more interested in the two
women than in the crucifix.
"A delicate odor of incense, flowers and perfume pervaded the whole
house. One felt at home there. This really was a comfortable home,
where one would have liked to linger.
"When we had returned to the parlor I delicately broached the subject of
the price. Mme. Samoris, lowering her eyes, asked fifty thousand francs.
"Then she added: 'If you wish to see it again, monsieur, I very seldom go
out before three o'clock; and I can be found at home every day.'
"In the street the stranger asked me for some details about the baroness,
whom he had found charming. But I did not hear anything more from either
"Three months passed by.
"One morning, hardly two weeks ago, she came here at about lunch time,
and, placing a roll of bills in my hand, said: 'My dear, you are an
angel! Here are fifty thousand francs; I am buying your crucifix, and I
am paying twenty thousand francs more for it than the price agreed upon,
on condition that you always--always send your clients to me--for it is
sill for sale.'"
MOTHER AND SON
A party of men were chatting in the smoking room after dinner. We were
talking of unexpected legacies, strange inheritances. Then M. le
Brument, who was sometimes called "the illustrious judge" and at other
times "the illustrious lawyer," went and stood with his back to the fire.
"I have," said he, "to search for an heir who disappeared under
peculiarly distressing circumstances. It is one of those simple and
terrible dramas of ordinary life, a thing which possibly happens every
day, and which is nevertheless one of the most dreadful things I know.
Here are the facts:
"Nearly six months ago I was called to the bedside of a dying woman. She
said to me:
"'Monsieur, I want to intrust to you the most delicate, the most
difficult, and the most wearisome mission that can be conceived. Be good
enough to notice my will, which is there on the table. A sum of five
thousand francs is left to you as a fee if you do not succeed, and of a
hundred thousand francs if you do succeed. I want you to find my son
after my death.'
"She asked me to assist her to sit up in bed, in order that she might
talk with greater ease, for her voice, broken and gasping, was whistling
in her throat.
"It was a very wealthy establishment. The luxurious apartment, of an
elegant simplicity, was upholstered with materials as thick as walls,
with a soft inviting surface.
"The dying woman continued:
"'You are the first to hear my horrible story. I will try to have
strength enough to finish it. You must know all, in order that you,
whom I know to be a kind-hearted man as well as a man of the world, may
have a sincere desire to aid me with all your power.
"'Listen to me:
"'Before my marriage, I loved a young man, whose suit was rejected by my
family because he was not rich enough. Not long afterward, I married a
man of great wealth. I married him through ignorance, through obedience,
through indifference, as young girls do marry.
"'I had a child, a boy. My husband died in the course of a few years.
"'He whom I had loved had married, in his turn. When he saw that I was
a widow, he was crushed by grief at knowing he was not free. He came to
see me; he wept and sobbed so bitterly, that it was enough to break my
heart. He came to see me at first as a friend. Perhaps I ought not to
have received him. What could I do? I was alone, so sad, so solitary,
so hopeless! And I loved him still. What sufferings we women have
sometimes to endure!
"'I had only him in the world, my parents being dead. He came
frequently; he spent whole evenings with me. I should not have let him
come so often, seeing that he was married. But I had not enough will-
power to prevent him from coming.
"'How can I tell it?--he became my lover. How did this come about? Can
I explain it? Can any one explain such things? Do you think it could be
otherwise when two human beings are drawn to each other by the
irresistible force of mutual affection? Do you believe, monsieur, that
it is always in our power to resist, that we can keep up the struggle
forever, and refuse to yield to the prayers, the supplications, the
tears, the frenzied words, the appeals on bended knees, the transports of
passion, with which we are pursued by the man we adore, whom we want to
gratify even in his slightest wishes, whom we desire to crown with every
possible happiness, and whom, if we are to be guided by a worldly code of
honor, we must drive to despair? What strength would it not require?
What a renunciation of happiness? what self-denial? and even what
"'In short, monsieur, I was his mistress; and I was happy. I became--and
this was my greatest weakness and my greatest piece of cowardice-I became
his wife's friend.
"'We brought up my son together; we made a man of him, a thorough man,
intelligent, full of sense and resolution, of large and generous ideas.
The boy reached the age of seventeen.
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