Une Vie, A Piece of String and Other Stories
Guy de Maupassant
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Thomas Berger, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
A Piece of String
And Other Stories
Albert M. C. McMaster, B.A.
A. E. Henderson, B.A.
Mme. Quesada and Others
* * * * *
* * * * *
INTRODUCTION BY POL. NEVEUX
UNE VIE (The History of a Heart)
I. The Home by the Sea
II. Happy Days
III. M. de Lamare
IV. Marriage and Disillusion
V. Corsica and a New Life
VII. Jeanne's Discovery
IX. Death of La Baronne
XI. The Development of Paul
XII. A New Home
XIII. Jeanne in Paris
XIV. Light at Eventide
THE FISHING HOLE
IN THE WOOD
A PIECE OF STRING
[Illustration: Guy de Maupassant]
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
A Study by Pol. Neveux
"I entered literary life as a meteor, and I shall leave it like a
thunderbolt." These words of Maupassant to José Maria de Heredia on
the occasion of a memorable meeting are, in spite of their morbid
solemnity, not an inexact summing up of the brief career during which,
for ten years, the writer, by turns undaunted and sorrowful, with the
fertility of a master hand produced poetry, novels, romances and
travels, only to sink prematurely into the abyss of madness and
In the month of April, 1880, an article appeared in the "Le Gaulois"
announcing the publication of the Soirées de Médan. It was signed by a
name as yet unknown: Guy de Maupassant. After a juvenile diatribe
against romanticism and a passionate attack on languorous literature,
the writer extolled the study of real life, and announced the
publication of the new work. It was picturesque and charming. In the
quiet of evening, on an island in the Seine, beneath poplars instead
of the Neapolitan cypresses dear to the friends of Boccaccio, amid the
continuous murmur of the valley, and no longer to the sound of the
Pyrennean streams that murmured a faint accompaniment to the tales of
Marguerite's cavaliers, the master and his disciples took turns in
narrating some striking or pathetic episode of the war. And the issue,
in collaboration, of these tales in one volume, in which the master
jostled elbows with his pupils, took on the appearance of a manifesto,
the tone of a challenge, or the utterance of a creed.
In fact, however, the beginnings had been much more simple, and they
had confined themselves, beneath the trees of Médan, to deciding on a
general title for the work. Zola had contributed the manuscript of the
"Attaque du Moulin," and it was at Maupassant's house that the five
young men gave in their contributions. Each one read his story,
Maupassant being the last. When he had finished Boule de Suif, with a
spontaneous impulse, with an emotion they never forgot, filled with
enthusiasm at this revelation, they all rose and, without superfluous
words, acclaimed him as a master.
He undertook to write the article for the Gaulois and, in coöperation
with his friends, he worded it in the terms with which we are
familiar, amplifying and embellishing it, yielding to an inborn taste
for mystification which his youth rendered excusable. The essential
point, he said, is to "unmoor" criticism.
It was unmoored. The following day Wolff wrote a polemical
dissertation in the Figaro and carried away his colleagues. The volume
was a brilliant success, thanks to Boule de Suif. Despite the novelty,
the honesty of effort, on the part of all, no mention was made of the
other stories. Relegated to the second rank, they passed without
notice. From his first battle, Maupassant was master of the field in
At once the entire press took him up and said what was appropriate
regarding the budding celebrity. Biographers and reporters sought
information concerning his life. As it was very simple and perfectly
straightforward, they resorted to invention. And thus it is that at
the present day Maupassant appears to us like one of those ancient
heroes whose origin and death are veiled in mystery.
I will not dwell on Guy de Maupassant's younger days. His relatives,
his old friends, he himself, here and there in his works, have
furnished us in their letters enough valuable revelations and touching
remembrances of the years preceding his literary début. His worthy
biographer, H. Édouard Maynial, after collecting intelligently all the
writings, condensing and comparing them, has been able to give us some
definite information regarding that early period.
I will simply recall that he was born on the 5th of August, 1850, near
Dieppe, in the castle of Miromesnil which he describes in Une Vie....
Maupassant, like Flaubert, was a Norman, through his mother, and
through his place of birth he belonged to that strange and adventurous
race, whose heroic and long voyages on tramp trading ships he liked to
recall. And just as the author of "Éducation sentimentale" seems to
have inherited in the paternal line the shrewd realism of Champagne,
so de Maupassant appears to have inherited from his Lorraine ancestors
their indestructible discipline and cold lucidity.
His childhood was passed at Étretat, his beautiful childhood; it was
there that his instincts were awakened in the unfoldment of his
prehistoric soul. Years went by in an ecstasy of physical happiness.
The delight of running at full speed through fields of gorse, the
charm of voyages of discovery in hollows and ravines, games beneath
the dark hedges, a passion for going to sea with the fishermen and, on
nights when there was no moon, for dreaming on their boats of
Mme. de Maupassant, who had guided her son's early reading, and had
gazed with him at the sublime spectacle of nature, put off as long as
possible the hour of separation. One day, however, she had to take the
child to the little seminary at Yvetot. Later, he became a student at
the college at Rouen, and became a literary correspondent of Louis
Bouilhet. It was at the latter's house on those Sundays in winter when
the Norman rain drowned the sound of the bells and dashed against the
window panes that the school boy learned to write poetry.
Vacation took the rhetorician back to the north of Normandy. Now it
was shooting at Saint Julien-l'Hospitalier, across fields, bogs, and
through the woods. From that time on he sealed his pact with the
earth, and those "deep and delicate roots" which attached him to his
native soil began to grow. It was of Normandy, broad, fresh and
virile, that he would presently demand his inspiration, fervent and
eager as a boy's love; it was in her that he would take refuge when,
weary of life, he would implore a truce, or when he simply wished to
work and revive his energies in old-time joys. It was at this time
that was born in him that voluptuous love of the sea, which in later
days could alone withdraw him from the world, calm him, console him.
In 1870 he lived in the country, then he came to Paris to live; for,
the family fortunes having dwindled, he had to look for a position.
For several years he was a clerk in the Ministry of Marine, where he
turned over musty papers, in the uninteresting company of the clerks
of the admiralty.
Then he went into the department of Public Instruction, where
bureaucratic servility is less intolerable. The daily duties are
certainly scarcely more onerous and he had as chiefs, or colleagues,
Xavier Charmes and Leon Dierx, Henry Roujon and René Billotte, but his
office looked out on a beautiful melancholy garden with immense plane
trees around which black circles of crows gathered in winter.
Maupassant made two divisions of his spare hours, one for boating, and
the other for literature. Every evening in spring, every free day, he
ran down to the river whose mysterious current veiled in fog or
sparkling in the sun called to him and bewitched him. In the islands
in the Seine between Chatou and Port-Marly, on the banks of
Sartrouville and Triel he was long noted among the population of
boatmen, who have now vanished, for his unwearying biceps, his cynical
gaiety of goodfellowship, his unfailing practical jokes, his broad
witticisms. Sometimes he would row with frantic speed, free and
joyous, through the glowing sunlight on the stream; sometimes, he
would wander along the coast, questioning the sailors, chatting with
the ravageurs, or junk gatherers, or stretched at full length amid the
irises and tansy he would lie for hours watching the frail insects
that play on the surface of the stream, water spiders, or white
butterflies, dragon flies, chasing each other amid the willow leaves,
or frogs asleep on the lily-pads.
The rest of his life was taken up by his work. Without ever becoming
despondent, silent and persistent, he accumulated manuscripts, poetry,
criticisms, plays, romances and novels. Every week he docilely
submitted his work to the great Flaubert, the childhood friend of his
mother and his uncle Alfred Le Poittevin. The master had consented to
assist the young man, to reveal to him the secrets that make
chefs-d'oeuvre immortal. It was he who compelled him to make copious
research and to use direct observation and who inculcated in him a
horror of vulgarity and a contempt for facility.
Maupassant himself tells us of those severe initiations in the Rue
Murillo, or in the tent at Croisset; he has recalled the implacable
didactics of his old master, his tender brutality, the paternal advice
of his generous and candid heart. For seven years Flaubert slashed,
pulverized, the awkward attempts of his pupil whose success remained
Suddenly, in a flight of spontaneous perfection, he wrote Boule de
Suif. His master's joy was great and overwhelming. He died two months
Until the end Maupassant remained illuminated by the reflection of the
good, vanished giant, by that touching reflection that comes from the
dead to those souls they have so profoundly stirred. The worship of
Flaubert was a religion from which nothing could distract him, neither
work, nor glory, nor slow moving waves, nor balmy nights.
At the end of his short life, while his mind was still clear, he wrote
to a friend: "I am always thinking of my poor Flaubert, and I say to
myself that I should like to die if I were sure that anyone would
think of me in the same manner."
During these long years of his novitiate Maupassant had entered the
social literary circles. He would remain silent, preoccupied; and if
anyone, astonished at his silence, asked him about his plans he
answered simply: "I am learning my trade." However, under the
pseudonym of Guy de Valmont, he had sent some articles to the
newspapers, and, later, with the approval and by the advice of
Flaubert, he published, in the "République des Lettres," poems signed
by his name.
These poems, overflowing with sensuality, where the hymn to the Earth
describes the transports of physical possession, where the impatience
of love expresses itself in loud melancholy appeals like the calls of
animals in the spring nights, are valuable chiefly inasmuch as they
reveal the creature of instinct, the fawn escaped from his native
forests, that Maupassant was in his early youth. But they add nothing
to his glory. They are the "rhymes of a prose writer" as Jules
Lemaitre said. To mould the expression of his thought according to the
strictest laws, and to "narrow it down" to some extent, such was his
aim. Following the example of one of his comrades of Médan, being
readily carried away by precision of style and the rhythm of
sentences, by the imperious rule of the ballad, of the pantoum or the
chant royal, Maupassant also desired to write in metrical lines.
However, he never liked this collection that he often regretted having
published. His encounters with prosody had left him with that
monotonous weariness that the horseman and the fencer feel after a
period in the riding school, or a bout with the foils.
Such, in very broad lines, is the story of Maupassant's literary
The day following the publication of "Boule de Suif," his reputation
began to grow rapidly. The quality of his story was unrivalled, but at
the same time it must be acknowledged that there were some who, for
the sake of discussion, desired to place a young reputation in
opposition to the triumphant brutality of Zola.
From this time on, Maupassant, at the solicitation of the entire
press, set to work and wrote story after story. His talent, free from
all influences, his individuality, are not disputed for a moment. With
a quick step, steady and alert, he advanced to fame, a fame of which
he himself was not aware, but which was so universal, that no
contemporary author during his life ever experienced the same. The
"meteor" sent out its light and its rays were prolonged without limit,
in article after article, volume on volume.
He was now rich and famous.... He is esteemed all the more as they
believe him to be rich and happy. But they do not know that this young
fellow with the sunburnt face, thick neck and salient muscles whom
they invariably compare to a young bull at liberty, and whose love
affairs they whisper, is ill, very ill. At the very moment that
success came to him, the malady that never afterwards left him came
also, and, seated motionless at his side, gazed at him with its
threatening countenance. He suffered from terrible headaches, followed
by nights of insomnia. He had nervous attacks, which he soothed with
narcotics and anesthetics, which he used freely. His sight, which had
troubled him at intervals, became affected, and a celebrated oculist
spoke of abnormality, asymetry of the pupils. The famous young man
trembled in secret and was haunted by all kinds of terrors.
The reader is charmed at the saneness of this revived art and yet,
here and there, he is surprised to discover, amid descriptions of
nature that are full of humanity, disquieting flights towards the
supernatural, distressing conjurations, veiled at first, of the most
commonplace, the most vertiginous shuddering fits of fear, as old as
the world and as eternal as the unknown. But, instead of being
alarmed, he thinks that the author must be gifted with infallible
intuition to follow out thus the taints in his characters, even
through their most dangerous mazes. The reader does not know that
these hallucinations which he describes so minutely were experienced
by Maupassant himself; he does not know that the fear is in himself,
the anguish of fear "which is not caused by the presence of danger, or
of inevitable death, but by certain abnormal conditions, by certain
mysterious influences in presence of vague dangers," the "fear of
fear, the dread of that horrible sensation of incomprehensible
How can one explain these physical sufferings and this morbid distress
that were known for some time to his intimates alone? Alas! the
explanation is only too simple. All his life, consciously or
unconsciously, Maupassant fought this malady, hidden as yet, which was
latent in him.
Those who first saw Maupassant when the Contes de la Bécasse and Bel
Ami were published were somewhat astonished at his appearance. He was
solidly built, rather short and had a resolute, determined air, rather
unpolished and without those distinguishing marks of intellect and
social position. But his hands were delicate and supple, and beautiful
shadows encircled his eyes.
He received visitors with the graciousness of the courteous head of a
department, who resigns himself to listen to demands, allowing them to
talk as he smiled faintly, and nonplussing them by his calmness.
How chilling was this first interview to young enthusiasts who had
listened to Zola unfolding in lyric formula audacious methods, or to
the soothing words of Daudet, who scattered with prodigality striking,
thrilling ideas, picturesque outlines and brilliant synopses.
Maupassant's remarks, in têtes-à-têtes, as in general conversation,
were usually current commonplaces and on ordinary time-worn topics.
Convinced of the superfluousness of words, perhaps he confounded them
all in the same category, placing the same estimate on a thought nobly
expressed as on a sally of coarse wit. One would have thought so, to
see the indifference with which he treated alike the chatter of the
most decided mediocrities and the conversation of the noblest minds of
the day. Not an avowal, not a confidence, that shed light on his life
work. Parsimonious of all he observed, he never related a typical
anecdote, or offered a suggestive remark. Praise, even, did not move
him, and if by chance he became animated it was to tell some practical
joke, some atelier hoaxes, as if he had given himself up to the
pleasure of hoaxing and mystifying people.
He appeared besides to look upon art as a pastime, literature as an
occupation useless at best, while he willingly relegated love to the
performance of a function, and suspected the motives of the most
Some say that this was the inborn basis of his personal psychology. I
do not believe it. That he may have had a low estimate of humanity,
that he may have mistrusted its disinterestedness, contested the
quality of its virtue, is possible, even certain. But that he was not
personally superior to his heroes I am unwilling to admit. And if I
see in his attitude, as in his language, an evidence of his inveterate
pessimism, I see in it also a method of protecting his secret thoughts
from the curiosity of the vulgar.
Perhaps he overshot the mark. By dint of hearing morality, art and
literature depreciated, and seeing him preoccupied with boating, and
listening to his own accounts of love affairs which he did not always
carry on in the highest class, many ended by seeing in him one of
those terrible Normans who, all through his novels and stories,
carouse and commit social crimes with such commanding assurance and
such calm unmorality.
He was undoubtedly a Norman, and, according to those who knew him
best, many of his traits of character show that atavism is not always
an idle word....
To identify Maupassant with his characters is a gross error, but is
not without precedent. We always like to trace the author in the hero
of a romance, and to seek the actor beneath the disguise. No doubt, as
Taine has said, "the works of an intelligence have not the
intelligence alone for father and mother, but the whole personality of
the man helps to produce them...."
That is why Maupassant himself says to us, "No, I have not the soul of
a decadent, I cannot look within myself, and the effort I make to
understand unknown souls is incessant, involuntary and dominant. It is
not an effort; I experience a sort of overpowering sense of insight
into all that surrounds me. I am impregnated with it, I yield to it, I
submerge myself in these surrounding influences."
That is, properly speaking, the peculiarity of all great novelists.
Who experiences this insight, this influence more than Balzac, or
Flaubert, in Madame Bovary? And so with Maupassant, who, pen in hand,
is the character he describes, with his passions, his hatreds, his
vices and his virtues. He so incorporates himself in him that the
author disappears, and we ask ourselves in vain what his own opinion
is of what he has just told us. He has none possibly, or if he has he
does not tell it.
This agrees admirably with the theory of impassivity in literature, so
much in vogue when Maupassant became known. But despite that theory he
is, if one understands him, quite other than
"A being without pity who contemplated suffering."
He has the deepest sympathy for the weak, for the victims of the
deceptions of society, for the sufferings of the obscure. If the
successful adventurer, Lesable, and the handsome Maze are the objects
of his veiled irony, he maintains, or feels a sorrowful, though
somewhat disdainful tenderness, for poor old Savon, the old copying
clerk of the Ministry of Marine, who is the drudge of the office and
whose colleagues laugh at him because his wife deceived him, _sans
Why did Maupassant at the start win universal favor? It is because he
had direct genius, the clear vision of a "primitive" (an artist of the
pre-Renaissance). His materials were just those of a graduate who,
having left college, has satisfied his curiosity. Grasping the simple
and ingenious, but strong and appropriate tools that he himself has
forged, he starts out in the forest of romance, and instead of being
overcome by the enchantment of its mystery, he walks through it
unfalteringly with a joyful step....
He was a minstrel. Offspring of a race, and not the inheritor of a
formula, he narrated to his contemporaries, bewildered by the lyrical
deformities of romanticism, stories of human beings, simple and
logical, like those which formerly delighted our parents.
The French reader who wished to be amused was at once at home, on the
same footing with him.... More spontaneous than the first troubadours,
he banished from his writings abstract and general types,
"romanticized" life itself, and not myths, those eternal legends that
stray through the highways of the world.
Study closely these minstrels in recent works; read M. Joseph Bédier's
beautiful work, Les Fabliaux, and you will see how, in Maupassant's
prose, ancestors, whom he doubtless never knew, are brought to life.
The Minstrel feels neither anger nor sympathy; he neither censures,
nor moralizes; for the self-satisfied Middle Ages cannot conceive the
possibility of a different world. Brief, quick, he despises aims and
methods, his only object is to entertain his auditors. Amusing and
witty, he cares only for laughter and ridicule....
But Maupassant's stories are singularly different in character. In the
nineteenth century the Gallic intellect had long since foundered amid
vileness and debauchery. In the provinces the ancient humor had
disappeared; one chattered still about nothing, but without point,
without wit; "trifling" was over, as they call it in Champagne. The
nauseating pabulum of the newspapers and low political intrigue had
withered the French intellect, that delicate, rare intellect, the last
traces of which fade away in the Alsatian stories of Erckman-Chatrian,
in the Provençal tales of Alphonse Daudet, in the novels of Emile
Pouvillon. Maupassant is not one of them. He knows nothing about
humor, for he never found it in Life....
His ambition was not to make one laugh; he writes for the pleasure of
recalling, without bias, what, to him, seems a halfway and dangerous
truth.... In his pessimism, Maupassant despises the race, society,
civilization and the world....
If Maupassant draws from anyone it is Schopenhauer and Herbert
Spencer, of whom he often speaks, although one does not know if he
studied them very deeply. In all his books, excepting, of course, in
the case of lines from the great tragic poets, one finds only one
credited reference, which in to Sir John Lubbock's work on ants, an
extract from which is introduced into Yvette.
No one was less bookish than himself. He was a designer, and one of
the greatest in literature. His heroes, little folk, artisans or
rustics, bureaucrats or shopkeepers, prostitutes or rakes, he places
them in faintly colored, but well-defined surroundings. And,
immediately, the simplified landscape gives the keynote of the story.
In his descriptions he resists the temptation of asserting his
personal view. He will not allow himself to see more of his landscape
than his characters themselves see. He is also careful to avoid all
refined terms and expressions, to introduce no element superior to the
characters of his heroes.
He never makes inanimate nature intervene directly in human
tribulations; she laughs at our joys and our sorrows.... Once, only,
in one of his works, the trees join in the universal mourning--the
great, sad beeches weep in autumn for the soul, the little soul, of la
And yet Maupassant adores this nature, the one thing that moves
him.... But, in spite of this, he can control himself; the artist is
aware of the danger to his narration should he indulge in the
transports of a lover.
With an inborn perception, Maupassant at once seizes on the principal
detail, the essential peculiarity that distinguishes a character and
builds round it. He also, in the presentation of his character,
assumes an authority that no writer, not even Balzac, ever
He traces what he sees with rapid strokes. His work is a vast
collection of powerful sketches, synthetic draftings. Like all great
artists, he was a simplifier; he knew how to "sacrifice" like the
Egyptians and Greeks....
Thanks to his rapid methods the master "cinematographed," if I may use
the word, inexhaustible stories. Among them, each person may find
himself represented, the artist, the clerk, the thinker, and the
Maupassant was always impatient to "realize" his observations. He
might forget, and above all, the flower of the sensation might lose
its perfume. In Une Vie he hastens to sum up his childhood's
recollections. As for Bel Ami, he wrote it from day to day as he
haunted the offices of Editors.
As for his style, it is limpid, accurate, easy and strongly marked,
with a sound framework and having the suppleness of a living organism.
Very industrious and very careful at first, Maupassant, in the fever
of production, became less careful. He early accustomed himself to
composing in his mind. "Composition amuses me," he said, "when I am
thinking it out, and not when I am writing it." ... Once he had
thought out his novels or romances, he transcribed them hurriedly,
almost mechanically. In his manuscripts, long pages follow each other
without an erasure.
His language appears natural, easy, and at first sight seems
spontaneous. But at the price of what effort was it not acquired! ...
In reality, in the writer, his sense of sight and smell were
perfected, to the detriment of the sense of hearing which is not very
musical. Repetitions, assonances, do not always shock Maupassant, who
is sometimes insensible to quantity as he is to harmony. He does not
"orchestrate," he has not inherited the "organ pipes" of Flaubert.
In his vocabulary there is no research; he never even requires a rare
Those whom Flaubert's great organ tones delighted, those whom
Theophile Gautier's frescoes enchanted, were not satisfied, and
accused Maupassant, somewhat harshly, of not being a "writer" in the
highest sense of the term. The reproach is unmerited, for there is but
But, on the other hand, it is difficult to admit, with an eminent
academician that Maupassant must be a great writer, a classical
writer, in fact, simply because he "had no style," a condition of
perfection "in that form of literary art in which the personality of
the author should not appear, in the romance, the story, and the
A classic, Maupassant undoubtedly is, as the critic to whom I alluded
has said, "through the simple aptness of his terms and his contempt
for frivolous ornamentation."
He remains a great writer because, like Molière, La Bruyère, and La
Fontaine, he is always close to nature, disdaining all studied
rhetorical effect and all literary verbosity.
For applause and fame Maupassant cared nothing, and his proud contempt
for Orders and Academies is well known.
In a letter to Marie Bashkirtseff he writes as follows:
"Everything in life is almost alike to me, men, women, events. This is
my true confession of faith, and I may add what you may not believe,
which is that I do not care any more for myself than I do for the
rest. All is divided into ennui, comedy and misery. I am indifferent
to everything. I pass two-thirds of my time in being terribly bored. I
pass the third portion in writing sentences which I sell as dear as I
can, regretting that I have to ply this abominable trade."
And in a later letter:
"I have no taste that I cannot get rid of at my pleasure, not a desire
that I do not scoff at, not a hope that does not make me smile or
laugh. I ask myself why I stir, why I go hither or thither, why I give
myself the odious trouble of earning money, since it does not amuse me
to spend it."
"As for me, I am incapable of really loving my art. I am too critical,
I analyze it too much. I feel strongly how relative is the value of
ideas, words, and even of the loftiest intelligences. I cannot help
despising thought, it is so weak; and form, it is so imperfect. I
really have, in an acute, incurable form, the sense of human
impotence, and of effort which results in wretched approximations."
For nature, Maupassant had an ardent passion.... His whole being
quivered when she bathed his forehead with her light ocean breeze.
She, alone, knew how to rock and soothe him with her waves.
Never satisfied, he wished to see her under all aspects, and travelled
incessantly, first in his native province, amid the meadows and waters
of Normandy, then on the banks of the Seine along which he coasted,
bending to the oar. Then Brittany with its beaches, where high waves
rolled in beneath low and dreary skies, then Auvergne, with its
scattered huts amid the sour grass, beneath rocks of basalt; and,
finally, Corsica, Italy, Sicily, not with artistic enthusiasm, but
simply to enjoy the delight of grand, pure outlines. Africa, the
country of Salammbô, the desert, finally call him, and he breathes
those distant odors borne on the slow winds; the sunlight inundates
his body, "laves the dark corners of his soul." And he retains a
troubled memory of the evenings in those warm climes, where the
fragrance of plants and trees seems to take the place of air.
Maupassant's philosophy is as little complicated as his vision of
humanity. His pessimism exceeds in its simplicity and depth that of
all other realistic writers.
Still there are contradictions and not unimportant ones in him. The
most striking is certainly his fear of Death. He sees it everywhere,
it haunts him. He sees it on the horizon of landscapes, and it crosses
his path on lonely roads. When it is not hovering over his head, it is
circling round him as around Gustave Moreau's pale youth.... Can he,
the determined materialist, really fear the stupor of eternal sleep,
or the dispersion of the transient individuality? ...
Another contradiction. He who says that contact with the crowd
"tortures his nerves," and who professes such contempt for mankind,
yet considers solitude as one of the bitterest torments of existence.
And he bewails the fact that he cannot live just for himself, "keep
within himself that secret place of the ego, where none can enter."
"Alas!" said his master, "we are all in a desert." Nobody understands
anyone else and "whatever we attempt, whatever be the impulse of our
heart and the appeal of our lips, we shall always be alone!"
In this gehenna of death, in these nostalgias of the past, in these
trances of eternal isolation, may we not find some relinquishing of
his philosophy? Certainly not, for these contradictions accentuate all
the more the pain of existence and become a new source of suffering.
In any case, Maupassant's pessimism becomes logical in terminating in
pity, like that of Schopenhauer. I know that I am running foul of
certain admirers of the author who do not see any pity in his work,
and it is understood that he is pitiless. But examine his stories more
closely and you will find it revealed in every page, provided you go
to the very bottom of the subject. That is where it exists naturally,
almost against the desire of the writer, who does not arouse pity, nor
And, again, if it remains concealed from so many readers, it is
because it has nothing to do with the humanitarian pity retailed by
rhetoricians. It is philosophical and haughty, detached from any
"anthropocentric" characteristics. It is universal suffering that it
covers. And to tell the truth, it is man, the hypocritical and cunning
biped who has the least share in it. Maupassant is helpful to all
those of his fellows who are tortured by physical suffering, social
cruelty and the criminal dangers of life, but he pities them without
caring for them, and his kindness makes distinctions.
On the other hand, the pessimist has all the tenderness of a Buddhist
for animals, whom the gospels despise. When he pities the animals, who
are worth more than ourselves, their executioners, when he pities the
elementary existences, the plants and trees, those exquisite
creations, he unbends and pours out his heart. The humbler the victim,
the more generously does he espouse its suffering. His compassion is
unbounded for all that lives in misery, that is buffeted about without
understanding why, that "suffers and dies without a word." And if he
mourned Miss Harriet, in this unaccustomed outburst of enthusiasm, it
is because, like himself, the poor outcast cherished a similar love
for "all things, all living beings."
Such appears to me to be Maupassant, the novelist, a story-teller, a
writer, and a philosopher by turns. I will add one more trait; he was
devoid of all spirit of criticism. When he essays to demolish a
theory, one is amazed to find in this great, clear writer such lack of
precision of thought, and such weak argument. He wrote the least
eloquent and the most diffuse study of Flaubert, of "that old, dead
master who had won his heart in a manner he could not explain." And,
later, he shows the same weakness in setting forth, as in proving his
theory, in his essay on the "Evolution of the Novel," in the
introduction to Pierre et Jean.
On the other hand, he possesses, above many others, a power of
creating, hidden and inborn, which he exercises almost unconsciously.
Living, spontaneous and yet impassive he is the glorious agent of a
mysterious function, through which he dominated literature and will
continue to dominate it until the day when he desires to become
He is as big as a tree. The author of "Contemporains" has written that
Maupassant produced novels as an apple-tree yields apples. Never was a
criticism more irrefutable.
On various occasions he was pleased with himself at the fertility that
had developed in him amid those rich soils where a frenzy mounts to
your brain through the senses of smell and sight. He even feels the
influence of the seasons, and writes from Provence: "The sap is rising
in me, it is true. The spring that I find just awakening here stirs
all my plant nature, and causes me to produce those literary fruits
that ripen in me, I know not how."
The "meteor" is at its apogee. All admire and glorify him. It is the
period when Alexandre Dumas, fils, wrote to him thrice: "You are the
only author whose books I await with impatience."
The day came, however, when this dominant impassivity became stirred,
when the marble became flesh by contact with life and suffering. And
the work of the romancer, begun by the novelist, became warm with a
tenderness that is found for the first time in Mont Oriol....
But this sentimental outburst that astonished his admirers quickly
dies down, for the following year, there appeared the sober Pierre et
Jean, that admirable masterpiece of typical reality constructed with
"human leaven," without any admixture of literary seasoning, or
romantic combinations. The reader finds once more in his splendid
integrity the master of yore.
But his heart has been touched, nevertheless. In the books that
follow, his impassivity gives way like an edifice that has been slowly
undermined. With an ever-growing emotion he relates under slight
disguises all his physical distress, all the terrors of his mind and
What is the secret of this evolution? The perusal of his works gives
us a sufficient insight into it.
The Minstrel has been received in country houses; has been admitted to
"the ladies' apartments." He has given up composing those hurried
tales which made his fame, in order to construct beautiful romances of
love and death.... The story teller has forsaken rustics and peasants,
the comrades of the "Repues franches," for the nobility and the
wealthy. He who formerly frequented Mme. Tellier's establishment now
praises Michèle de Burne.
Ysolde replaces Macette. In "l'Ostel de Courtoisie," Maupassant
cultivates the usual abstractions of the modern Round Table:
Distinction and Moderation; Fervor and Delicacy. We see him inditing
love sonnets and becoming a knight of chivalry. The apologist of
brutal pleasures has become a devotee of the "culte de la Dame."
Everywhere he was sought after, fêted, petted.... But Maupassant never
let himself be carried away by the tinsel of his prestige, nor the
puerility of his enchantment. He despised at heart the puppets that
moved about him as he had formerly despised his short stories and his
petit bourgeois. "Ah," he cries, "I see them, their heads, their
types, their hearts and their souls! What a clinic for a maker of
books! The disgust with which this humanity inspires me makes me
regret still more that I could not become what I should most have
preferred--an Aristophanes, or a Rabelais." And he adds: "The world
makes failures of all scientists, all artists, all intelligences that
it monopolizes. It aborts all sincere sentiment by its manner of
scattering our taste, our curiosity, our desire, the little spark of
genius that burns in us."
Maupassant had to bend to the conditions of his new life. Being well
bred, he respected, outwardly at least, the laws of artificiality and
conventionality, and bowed before the idols of the cave he had
If Maupassant never became the slave of worldly ideas, the creature of
instinct that was part of his being acquired the refined tastes of the
salons, and the manners of the highest civilization.
The novelist lived for some time in these enchanted and artificial
surroundings, when, suddenly, his malady became aggravated. He was
tortured by neuralgia, and by new mysterious darting pains. His
suffering was so great that he longed to scream. At the same time, his
unhappy heart became softened and he became singularly emotional. His
early faculties were intensified and refined, and in the overtension
of his nerves through suffering his perceptions broadened, and he
gained new ideas of things. This nobler personality Maupassant owes to
those sufferings dear to great souls of whom Daudet speaks. This is
what he says:
"If I could ever tell all, I should utter all the unexplored,
repressed and sad thoughts that I feel in the depths of my being. I
feel them swelling and poisoning me as bile does some people. But if I
could one day give them utterance they would perhaps evaporate, and I
might no longer have anything but a light, joyful heart. Who can say?
Thinking becomes an abominable torture when the brain is an open
wound. I have so many wounds in my head that my ideas cannot stir
without making me long to cry out. Why is it? Why is it? Dumas would
say that my stomach is out of order. I believe, rather, that I have a
poor, proud, shameful heart, that old human heart that people laugh
at, but which is touched, and causes me suffering, and in my head as
well; I have the mind of the Latin race, which is very worn out. And,
again, there are days when I do not think thus, but when I suffer just
the same; for I belong to the family of the thin-skinned. But then I
do not tell it, I do not show it; I conceal it very well, I think.
Without any doubt, I am thought to be one of the most indifferent men
in the world. I am sceptical, which is not the same thing, sceptical
because I am clear-sighted. And my eyes say to my heart, Hide
yourself, old fellow, you are grotesque, and it hides itself."
This describes, in spite of reservation, the struggle between two
conflicting minds, that of yesterday, and that of to-day. But this
sensitiveness that Maupassant seeks to hide, is plain to all
He soon begins to be filled with regrets and forebodings. He has a
desire to look into the unknown, and to search for the inexplicable.
He feels in himself that something is undergoing destruction; he is at
times haunted by the idea of a double. He divines that his malady is
on guard, ready to pounce on him. He seeks to escape it, but on the
mountains, as beside the sea, nature, formerly his refuge, now
Then his heart expands. All the sentiments that he once reviled, he
now desires to experience. He now exalts in his books the passion of
love, the passion of sacrifice, the passion of suffering; he extols
self-sacrifice, devotion, the irresistible joy of ever giving oneself
up more and more. The hour is late, the night is at hand; weary of
suffering any longer, he hurriedly begs for tenderness and
Occasionally, the Maupassant of former days protests against the
bondage of his new personality; he complains that he no longer feels
absolutely as formerly that he has no contact with anything in the
world, that sweet, strong sensation that gives one strength. "How
sensible I was," he says, "to wall myself round with indifference! If
one did not feel, but only understand, without giving fragments of
oneself to other beings! ... It is strange to suffer from the
emptiness, the nothingness, of this life, when one is resigned, as I
am, to nothingness. But, there, I cannot live without recollections,
and recollections sadden me. I can have no hope, I know, but I feel
obscurely and unceasingly the harm of this statement, and the regret
that it should be so. And the attachments that I have in life act on
my sensibility, which is too human, and not literary enough."
Maupassant's pity now takes a pathetic turn. He no longer despises,
but holds out his hand to those unfortunates who, like himself, are
tormented on the pathway without hope. The tears that he sees flow
make him sad, and his heart bleeds at all the wounds he discovers. He
does not inquire into the quality or origin of the misfortune. He
sympathizes with all suffering; physical suffering, moral suffering,
the suffering caused by treachery, the bitter twilight of wasted
His mind has also become active. He desires to dabble in science. One
day he studies the Arab mystics, Oriental legends, and the next, he
studies the marine fauna, etc. His perceptions have never been so
clear. His brain is in continual activity. "It is strange," he
acknowledges, "what a different man I am becoming mentally from what I
was formerly. I can see it as I watch myself thinking, discovering,
and developing stories, weighing and analyzing the imaginary beings
that float through my imagination. I take the same enjoyment in
certain dreams, certain exaltations of mind, as I formerly took in
rowing like mad in the sunlight."
For the first time, his assurance as a writer wavers. As his last
volumes show, he is endeavoring to transform, to renew himself. He
acquires a desire to learn the secrets of obscure and precious hearts,
to visit unknown races. He has lost his magnificent serenity....
* * * * *
As his malady began to take a more definite form, he turned his steps
towards the south, only visiting Paris to see his physicians and
publishers. In the old port of Antibes beyond the causeway of Cannes,
his yacht, Bel Ami, which he cherished as a brother, lay at anchor and
awaited him. He took it to the white cities of the Genoese Gulf,
towards the palm trees of Hyères, or the red bay trees of Anthéor.
It was during one of these idle cruises on the open sea, outside of
Agay and Saint-Raphael that he wrote "Sur l'Eau."
It was on the sacred sea of the old poets and philosophers, on the sea
whose voice has rocked the thought of the world, that he cast into the
shadow that long lament, so heartrending and sublime, that posterity
will long shudder at the remembrance of it. The bitter strophes of
this lament seem to be cadenced by the Mediterranean itself and to be
in rhythm, like its melopoeia.
"Sur l'Eau" is the last Will and Testament, the general confession of
Maupassant. To those who come after him he leaves the legacy of his
highest thought; then he says farewell to all that he loved, to
dreams, to starlit nights, and to the breath of roses. "Sur l'Eau" is
the book of modern disenchantment, the faithful mirror of the latest
pessimism. The journal written on board ship, disconnected and hasty,
but so noble in its disorder, has taken a place forever beside Werther
and René, Manfred and Oberman.
He had for a long time, to his sorrow, seen his health failing under
the attacks of an obscure malady which left him with a sense of the
diminution of his powers and a gradual clouding of his intellect.
Symptoms of general paralysis set in, at first mistaken for neurotic
disturbances. He changed greatly. Those who met him as I did, thin and
shivering, on that rainy Sunday when they were celebrating the
inauguration of Flaubert's monument at Rouen would scarcely have
recognized him. I shall never forget, as long as I live, his face
wasted by suffering, his large eyes with a distressed expression,
which emitted dying gleams of protest against a cruel fate....
Maupassant retired to Cannes not far from his mother. He read medical
books and, in spite of what they taught, persisted in attributing his
sufferings to "rheumatism localized in the brain," contracted amid the
fogs on the Seine....
Vainly he endeavored to work, he became gloomy and the idea of suicide
impressed him more and more....
The months passed, however, and in June he was able to go to Divonne
to take a cure. After a very characteristic attack of optimism, he
suddenly appeared at Champel and astonished everyone by his frightful
eccentricities. One evening, however, he felt better, and read to the
poet Dorchain the beginning of his novel "The Angelus," which he
declared would be his masterpiece. When he had finished, he wept. "And
we wept also," writes Dorchain, "at seeing all that now remained of
genius, of tenderness and pity in this soul that would never again be
capable of expressing itself so as to impress other minds.... In his
accent, in his language, in his tears, Maupassant had, I know not
what, of a religious character, which exceeded his horror of life, and
his sombre terror of annihilation."
At the end of September he again visited Cannes, but the fatal day
predicted by the physician was at hand.
After several tragic weeks in which, from instinct, he made a
desperate fight, on the 1st of January, 1892, he felt he was
hopelessly vanquished, and in a moment of supreme clearness of
intellect, like Gerard de Nerval, he attempted suicide. Less fortunate
than the author of Sylvia, he was unsuccessful. But his mind,
henceforth "indifferent to all unhappiness," had entered into eternal
He was taken back to Paris and placed in Dr. Meuriot's sanatorium,
where, after eighteen months of mechanical existence, the "meteor"
quietly passed away.
* * * * *
OR, THE HISTORY OF A HEART
THE HOME BY THE SEA
The weather was most distressing. It had rained all night. The roaring
of the overflowing gutters filled the deserted streets, in which the
houses, like sponges, absorbed the humidity, which penetrating to the
interior, made the walls sweat from cellar to garret. Jeanne had left
the convent the day before, free for all time, ready to seize all the
joys of life, of which she had dreamed so long. She was afraid her
father would not set out for the new home in bad weather, and for the
hundredth time since daybreak she examined the horizon. Then she
noticed that she had omitted to put her calendar in her travelling
bag. She took from the wall the little card which bore in golden
figures the date of the current year, 1819. Then she marked with a
pencil the first four columns, drawing a line through the name of each
saint up to the 2d of May, the day that she left the convent. A voice
outside the door called "Jeannette." Jeanne replied, "Come in, papa."
And her father entered. Baron Simon-Jacques Le Perthuis des Vauds was
a gentleman of the last century, eccentric and good. An enthusiastic
disciple of Jean Jacques Rousseau, he had the tenderness of a lover
for nature, in the fields, in the woods and in the animals. Of
aristocratic birth, he hated instinctively the year 1793, but being a
philosopher by temperament and liberal by education, he execrated
tyranny with an inoffensive and declamatory hatred. His great strength
and his great weakness was his kind-heartedness, which had not arms
enough to caress, to give, to embrace; the benevolence of a god, that
gave freely, without questioning; in a word, a kindness of inertia
that became almost a vice. A man of theory, he thought out a plan of
education for his daughter, to the end that she might become happy,
good, upright and gentle. She had lived at home until the age of
twelve, when, despite the tears of her mother, she was placed in the
Convent of the Sacred Heart. He had kept her severely secluded,
cloistered, in ignorance of the secrets of life. He wished the Sisters
to restore her to him pure at seventeen years of age, so that he might
imbue her mind with a sort of rational poetry, and by means of the
fields, in the midst of the fruitful earth, unfold her soul, enlighten
her ignorance through the aspect of love in nature, through the simple
tenderness of the animals, through the placid laws of existence. She
was leaving the convent radiant, full of the joy of life, ready for
all the happiness, all the charming incidents which her mind had
pictured in her idle hours and in the long, quiet nights. She was like
a portrait by Veronese with her fair, glossy hair, which seemed to
cast a radiance on her skin, a skin with the faintest tinge of pink,
softened by a light velvety down which could be perceived when the sun
kissed her cheek. Her eyes were an opaque blue, like those of Dutch
porcelain figures. She had a tiny mole on her left nostril and another
on the right of her chin. She was tall, well developed, with willowy
figure. Her clear voice sounded at times a little too sharp, but her
frank, sincere laugh spread joy around her. Often, with a familiar
gesture, she would raise her hands to her temples as if to arrange her
She ran to her father and embraced him warmly. "Well, are we going to
start?" she said. He smiled, shook his head and said, pointing toward
the window, "How can we travel in such weather?" But she implored in a
cajoling and tender manner, "Oh, papa, do let us start. It will clear
up in the afternoon." "But your mother will never consent to it."
"Yes, I promise you that she will, I will arrange that." "If you
succeed in persuading your mother, I am perfectly willing." In a few
moments she returned from her mother's room, shouting in a voice that
could be heard all through the house, "Papa, papa, mamma is willing.
Have the horses harnessed." The rain was not abating; one might almost
have said that it was raining harder when the carriage drove up to the
door. Jeanne was ready to step in when the baroness came downstairs,
supported on one side by her husband and on the other by a tall
housemaid, strong and strapping as a boy. She was a Norman woman of
the country of Caux, who looked at least twenty, although she was but
eighteen at the most. She was treated by the family as a second
daughter, for she was Jeanne's foster sister. Her name was Rosalie,
and her chief duty lay in guiding the steps of her mistress, who had
grown enormous in the last few years and also had an affection of the
heart, which kept her complaining continually. The baroness, gasping
from over-exertion, finally reached the doorstep of the old residence,
looked at the court where the water was streaming and remarked: "It
really is not wise." Her husband, always pleasant, replied: "It was
you who desired it, Madame Adelaide." He always preceded her pompous
name of Adelaide with the title madame with an air of half respectful
mockery. Madame mounted with difficulty into the carriage, causing all
the springs to bend. The baron sat beside her, while Jeanne and
Rosalie were seated opposite, with their backs to the horses.
Ludivine, the cook, brought a heap of wraps to put over their knees
and two baskets, which were placed under the seats; then she climbed
on the box beside Father Simon, wrapping herself in a great rug which
covered her completely. The porter and his wife came to bid them
good-by as they closed the carriage door, taking the last orders about
the trunks, which were to follow in a wagon. So they started. Father
Simon, the coachman, with head bowed and back bent in the pouring
rain, was completely covered by his box coat with its triple cape. The
howling storm beat upon the carriage windows and inundated the
They drove rapidly to the wharf and continued alongside the line of
tall-masted vessels until they reached the boulevard of Mont Riboudet.
Then they crossed the meadows, where from time to time a drowned
willow, its branches drooping limply, could be faintly distinguished
through the mist of rain. No one spoke. Their minds themselves seemed
to be saturated with moisture like the earth.
The baroness leaned her head against the cushions and closed her eyes.
The baron looked out with mournful eyes at the monotonous and drenched
landscape. Rosalie, with a parcel on her knee, was dreaming in the
dull reverie of a peasant. But Jeanne, under this downpour, felt
herself revive like a plant that has been shut up and has just been
restored to the air, and so great was her joy that, like foliage, it
sheltered her heart from sadness. Although she did not speak, she
longed to burst out singing, to reach out her hands to catch the rain
that she might drink it. She enjoyed to the full being carried along
rapidly by the horses, enjoyed gazing at the desolate landscape and
feeling herself under shelter amid this general inundation. Beneath
the pelting rain the gleaming backs of the two horses emitted a warm
Little by little the baroness fell asleep, and presently began to
snore sonorously. Her husband leaned over and placed in her hands a
little leather pocketbook.
This awakened her, and she looked at the pocket-book with the stupid,
sleepy look of one suddenly aroused. It fell off her lap and sprang
open and gold and bank bills were scattered on the floor of the
carriage. This roused her completely, and Jeanne gave vent to her
mirth in a merry peal of girlish laughter.
The baron picked up the money and placed it on her knees. "This, my
dear," he said, "is all that is left of my farm at Eletot. I have sold
it--so as to be able to repair the 'Poplars,' where we shall often
live in the future."
She counted six thousand four hundred francs and quietly put them in
her pocket. This was the ninth of thirty-one farms that they had
inherited which they had sold in this way. Nevertheless they still
possessed about twenty thousand livres income annually in land
rentals, which, with proper care, would have yielded about thirty
thousand francs a year.
Living simply as they did, this income would have sufficed had there
not been a bottomless hole always open in their house--kind-hearted
generosity. It dried up the money in their hands as the sun dries the
water in marshes. It flowed, fled, disappeared. How? No one knew.
Frequently one would say to the other, "I don't know how it happens,
but I have spent one hundred francs to-day, and I have bought nothing
of any consequence." This faculty of giving was, however, one of the
greatest pleasures of their life, and they all agreed on this point in
a superb and touching manner.
Jeanne asked her father, "Is it beautiful now, my castle?" The baron
replied, "You shall see, my little girl."
The storm began to abate. The vault of clouds seemed to rise and
heighten and suddenly, through a rift, a long ray of sunshine fell
upon the fields, and presently the clouds separated, showing the blue
firmament, and then, like the tearing of a veil, the opening grew
larger and the beautiful azure sky, clear and fathomless, spread over
the world. A fresh and gentle breeze passed over the earth like a
happy sigh, and as they passed beside gardens or woods they heard
occasionally the bright chirp of a bird as he dried his wings.
Evening was approaching. Everyone in the carriage was asleep except
Jeanne. They stopped to rest and feed the horses. The sun had set. In
the distance bells were heard. They passed a little village as the
inhabitants were lighting their lamps, and the sky became also
illuminated by myriads of stars. Suddenly they saw behind a hill,
through the branches of the fir trees, the moon rising, red and full
as if it were torpid with sleep.
The air was so soft that the windows were not closed. Jeanne,
exhausted with dreams and happy visions, was now asleep. Finally they
stopped. Some men and women were standing before the carriage door
with lanterns in their hands. They had arrived. Jeanne, suddenly
awakened, was the first to jump out. Her father and Rosalie had
practically to carry the baroness, who was groaning and continually
repeating in a weak little voice, "Oh, my God, my poor children!" She
refused all offers of refreshment, but went to bed and immediately
Jeanne and her father, the baron, took supper together. They were in
perfect sympathy with each other. Later, seized with a childish joy,
they started on a tour of inspection through the restored manor. It
was one of those high and vast Norman residences that comprise both
farmhouse and castle, built of white stone which had turned gray,
large enough to contain a whole race of people.
An immense hall divided the house from front to rear and a staircase
went up at either side of the entrance, meeting in a bridge on the
first floor. The huge drawing-room was on the ground floor to the
right and was hung with tapestries representing birds and foliage. All
the furniture was covered with fine needlework tapestry illustrating
La Fontaine's fables, and Jeanne was delighted at finding a chair she
had loved as a child, which pictured the story of "The Fox and the
Beside the drawing-room were the library, full of old books, and two
unused rooms; at the left was the dining-room, the laundry, the
A corridor divided the whole first floor, the doors of ten rooms
opening into it. At the end, on the right, was Jeanne's room. She and
her father went in. He had had it all newly done over, using the
furniture and draperies that had been in the storeroom.
There were some very old Flemish tapestries, with their peculiar
looking figures. At sight of her bed, the young girl uttered a scream
of joy. Four large birds carved in oak, black from age and highly
polished, bore up the bed and seemed to be its protectors. On the
sides were carved two wide garlands of flowers and fruit, and four
finely fluted columns, terminating in Corinthian capitals, supported a
cornice of cupids with roses intertwined. The tester and the coverlet
were of antique blue silk, embroidered in gold fleur de lys. When
Jeanne had sufficiently admired it, she lifted up the candle to
examine the tapestries and the allegories they represented. They were
mostly conventional subjects, but the last hanging represented a
drama. Near a rabbit, which was still nibbling, a young man lay
stretched out, apparently dead. A young girl, gazing at him, was
plunging a sword into her bosom, and the fruit of the tree had turned
black. Jeanne gave up trying to divine the meaning underlying this
picture, when she saw in the corner a tiny little animal which the
rabbit, had he lived, could have swallowed like a blade of grass; and
yet it was a lion. Then she recognized the story of "Pyramus and
Thisbe," and though she smiled at the simplicity of the design, she
felt happy to have in her room this love adventure which would
continually speak to her of her cherished hopes, and every night this
legendary love would hover about her dreams.
It struck eleven and the baron kissed Jeanne goodnight and retired to
his room. Before retiring, Jeanne cast a last glance round her room
and then regretfully extinguished the candle. Through her window she
could see the bright moonlight bathing the trees and the wonderful
landscape. Presently she arose, opened a window and looked out. The
night was so clear that one could see as plainly as by daylight. She
looked across the park with its two long avenues of very tall poplars
that gave its name to the château and separated it from the two farms
that belonged to it, one occupied by the Couillard family, the other
by the Martins. Beyond the enclosure stretched a long, uncultivated
plain, thickly overgrown with rushes, where the breeze whistled day
and night. The land ended abruptly in a steep white cliff three
hundred feet high, with its base in the ocean waves.
Jeanne looked out over the long, undulating surface that seemed to
slumber beneath the heavens. All the fragrance of the earth was in the
night air. The odor of jasmine rose from the lower windows, and light
whiffs of briny air and of seaweed were wafted from the ocean.
Merely to breathe was enough for Jeanne, and the restful calm of the
country was like a soothing bath. She felt as though her heart was
expanding and she began dreaming of love. What was it? She did not
know. She only knew that she would adore _him_ with all her soul
and that he would cherish her with all his strength. They would walk
hand in hand on nights like this, hearing the beating of their hearts,
mingling their love with the sweet simplicity of the summer nights in
such close communion of thought that by the sole power of their
tenderness they would easily penetrate each other's most secret
thoughts. This would continue forever in the calm of an enduring
affection. It seemed to her that she felt _him_ there beside her.
And an unusual sensation came over her. She remained long musing thus,
when suddenly she thought she heard a footstep behind the house. "If
it were _he_." But it passed on and she felt as if she had been
deceived. The air became cooler. The day broke. Slowly bursting aside
the gleaming clouds, touching with fire the trees, the plains, the
ocean, all the horizon, the great flaming orb of the sun appeared.
Jeanne felt herself becoming mad with happiness. A delirious joy,
an infinite tenderness at the splendor of nature overcame her
fluttering heart. It was _her_ sun, _her_ dawn! The beginning
of _her_ life! Thoroughly fatigued at last, she flung herself down
and slept till her father called her at eight o'clock. He walked into
the room and proposed to show her the improvements of the castle, of
_her_ castle. The road, called the parish road, connecting the
farms, joined the high road between Havre and Fécamp, a mile and a
half further on.
Jeanne and the baron inspected everything and returned home for
breakfast. When the meal was over, as the baroness had decided that
she would rest, the baron proposed to Jeanne that they should go down
to Yport. They started, and passing through the hamlet of Etouvent,
where the poplars were, and going through the wooded slope by a
winding valley leading down to the sea, they presently perceived the
village of Yport. Women sat in their doorways mending linen; brown
fish-nets were hanging against the doors of the huts, where an entire
family lived in one room. It was a typical little French fishing
village, with all its concomitant odors. To Jeanne it was all like a
scene in a play. On turning a corner they saw before them the
limitless blue ocean. They bought a brill from a fisherman and another
sailor offered to take them out sailing, repeating his name,
"Lastique, Joséphin Lastique," several times, that they might not
forget it, and the baron promised to remember. They walked home,
chattering like two children, carrying the big fish between them,
Jeanne having pushed her father's walking cane through its gills.
* * * * *
A delightful life commenced for Jeanne, a life in the open air. She
wandered along the roads, or into the little winding valleys, their
sides covered with a fleece of gorse blossoms, the strong sweet odor
of which intoxicated her like the bouquet of wine, while the distant
sound of the waves rolling on the beach seemed like a billow rocking
A love of solitude came upon her in the sweet freshness of this
landscape and in the calm of the rounded horizon, and she would remain
sitting so long on the hill tops that the wild rabbits would bound by
She planted memories everywhere, as seeds are cast upon the earth,
memories whose roots hold till death. It seemed to Jeanne that she was
casting a little of her heart into every fold of these valleys. She
became infatuated with sea bathing. When she was well out from shore,
she would float on her back, her arms crossed, her eyes lost in the
profound blue of the sky which was cleft by the flight of a swallow,
or the white silhouette of a seabird.
After these excursions she invariably came back to the castle pale
with hunger, but light, alert, a smile on her lips and her eyes
sparkling with happiness.
The baron on his part was planning great agricultural enterprises.
Occasionally, also, he went out to sea with the sailors of Yport. On
several occasions he went fishing for mackerel and, again, by
moonlight, he would haul in the nets laid the night before. He loved
to hear the masts creak, to breathe in the fresh and whistling gusts
of wind that arose during the night; and after having tacked a long
time to find the buoys, guiding himself by a peak of rocks, the roof
of a belfry or the Fécamp lighthouse, he delighted to remain
motionless beneath the first gleams of the rising sun which made the
slimy backs of the large fan-shaped rays and the fat bellies of the
turbots glisten on the deck of the boat.
At each meal he gave an enthusiastic account of his expeditions, and
the baroness in her turn told how many times she had walked down the
main avenue of poplars.
As she had been advised to take exercise she made a business of
walking, beginning as soon as the air grew warm. Leaning upon
Rosalie's arm and dragging her left foot, which was rather heavier
than the right, she wandered interminably up and down from the house
to the edge of the wood, sitting down for five minutes at either end.
The walking was resumed in the afternoon. A physician, consulted ten
years before, had spoken of hypertrophy because she had suffered from
suffocation. Ever since, this word had been used to describe the
ailment of the baroness. The baron would say "my wife's hypertrophy"
and Jeanne "mamma's hypertrophy" as they would have spoken of her hat,
her dress, or her umbrella. She had been very pretty in her youth and
slim as a reed. Now she had grown older, stouter, but she still
remained poetical, having always retained the impression of "Corinne,"
which she had read as a girl. She read all the sentimental love
stories it was possible to collect, and her thoughts wandered among
tender adventures in which she always figured as the heroine. Her new
home was infinitely pleasing to her because it formed such a beautiful
framework for the romance of her soul, the surrounding woods, the
waste land, and the proximity of the ocean recalling to her mind the
novels of Sir Walter Scott, which she had been devouring for some
months. On rainy days she remained shut up in her room, sending
Rosalie in a special manner for the drawer containing her "souvenirs,"
which meant to the baroness all her old private and family letters.
Occasionally, Jeanne replaced Rosalie in the walks with her mother,
and she listened eagerly to the tales of the latter's childhood. The
young girl saw herself in all these romantic stories, and was
astonished at the similarity of ideas and desires; each heart imagines
itself to have been the first to tremble at those very sensations that
awakened the hearts of the first beings, and that will awaken the
hearts of the last.
One afternoon as the baroness and Jeanne were resting on the beach at
the end of the walk, a stout priest who was moving in their direction
greeted them with a bow, while still at a distance. He bowed when
within three feet and, assuming a smiling air, cried: "Well, Madame la
Baronne, how are you?" It was the village priest. The baroness seldom
went to church, though she liked priests, from a sort of religious
instinct peculiar to women. She had, in fact, entirely forgotten the
Abbé Picot, her priest, and blushed as she saw him. She made apologies
for not having prepared for his visit, but the good man was not at all
embarrassed. He looked at Jeanne, complimented her on her appearance
and sat down, placing his three-cornered hat on his knees. He was very
stout, very red, and perspired profusely. He drew from his pocket
every moment an enormous checked handkerchief and passed it over his
face and neck, but hardly was the task completed when necessity forced
him to repeat the process. He was a typical country priest, talkative
Presently the baron appeared. He was very friendly to the abbé and
invited him to dinner. The priest was well versed in the art of being
pleasant, thanks to the unconscious astuteness which the guiding of
souls gives to the most mediocre of men who are called by the chance
of events to exercise a power over their fellows. Toward dessert he
became quite merry, with the gaiety that follows a pleasant meal, and
as if struck by an idea he said: "I have a new parishioner whom I must
present to you, Monsieur le Vicomte de Lamare." The baroness, who was
at home in heraldry, inquired if he was of the family of Lamares of
Eure. The priest answered, "Yes, madame, he is the son of Vicomte Jean
de Lamare, who died last year." After this, the baroness, who loved
the nobility above all other things, inquired the history of the young
vicomte. He had paid his father's debts, sold the family castle, made
his home on one of the three farms which he owned in the town of
Etouvent. These estates brought him in an income of five or six
thousand livres. The vicomte was economical and lived in this modest
manner for two or three years, so that he might save enough to cut a
figure in society, and to marry advantageously, without contracting
debts or mortgaging his farms. The priest added, "He is a very
charming young man, so steady and quiet, though there is very little
to amuse him in the country." The baron said, "Bring him in to see us,
Monsieur l'Abbé, it will be a distraction for him occasionally." After
the coffee the baron and the priest took a turn about the grounds and
then returned to say good-night to the ladies.
* * * * *
M. DE LAMARE
The following Sunday the baroness and Jeanne went to mass, prompted by
a feeling of respect for their pastor, and after service waited to see
the priest and invite him to luncheon the following Thursday. He came
out of the sacristy leaning familiarly on the arm of a tall young man.
As soon as he perceived the ladies, he exclaimed:
"How fortunate! Allow me, baroness and Mlle. Jeanne, to present to you
your neighbor, M. le Vicomte de Lamare."
The vicomte said he had long desired to make their acquaintance, and
began to converse in a well-bred manner. He had a face of which women
dream and that men dislike. His black, wavy hair shaded a smooth,
sunburnt forehead, and two large straight eyebrows, that looked almost
artificial, cast a deep and tender shadow over his dark eyes, the
whites of which had a bluish tinge.
His long, thick eyelashes accentuated the passionate eloquence of his
expression which wrought havoc in the drawing-rooms of society, and
made peasant girls carrying baskets turn round to look at him. The
languorous fascination of his glance impressed one with the depth of
his thoughts and lent weight to his slightest words. His beard, fine
and glossy, concealed a somewhat heavy jaw.
Two days later, M. de Lamare made his first call, just as they were
discussing the best place for a new rustic bench. The vicomte was
consulted and agreed with the baroness, who differed from her husband.
M. de Lamare expatiated on the picturesqueness of the country and from
time to time, as if by chance, his eyes met those of Jeanne, and she
felt a strange sensation at the quickly averted glance which betrayed
tender admiration and an awakened sympathy.
M. de Lamare's father, who had died the preceding year, had known an
intimate friend of the baroness's father, M. Cultaux, and this fact
led to an endless conversation about family, relations, dates, etc.,
and names heard in her childhood were recalled, and led to
The baron, whose nature was rather uncultivated, and whose beliefs and
prejudices were not those of his class, knew little about the
neighboring families, and inquired about them from the vicomte, who
"Oh, there are very few of the nobility in the district," just as he
might have said, "there are very few rabbits on the hills," and he
began to particularize: There was the Marquis de Coutelier, a sort of
leader of Norman aristocracy, Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Briseville,
people of excellent stock, but living to themselves, and the Comte de
Fourville, a kind of ogre, who was said to have made his wife die of
sorrow, and who lived as a huntsman in his château of La Vrillette,
built on a pond. There were a few parvenus among them who had bought
properties here and there, but the vicomte did not know them.
As he left, his last glance was for Jeanne, as if it were a special
tender and cordial farewell. The baroness was delighted with him, and
the baron said: "Yes, indeed, he is a gentleman." And he was invited
to dinner the following week, and from that time came regularly.
He generally arrived about four o'clock in the afternoon, went to join
the baroness in "her avenue," and offered her his arm while she took
her "exercise," as she called her daily walks. When Jeanne was at home
she would walk on the other side of her mother, supporting her, and
all three would walk slowly back and forth from one end of the avenue
to the other. He seldom addressed Jeanne directly, but his eye
frequently met hers.
He went to Yport several times with Jeanne and the baron. One evening,
when they were on the beach, Père Lastique accosted him, and without
removing his pipe, the absence of which would possibly have been more
remarkable than the loss of his nose, he said:
"With this wind, m'sieu le baron, we could easily go to Étretat and
Jeanne clasped her hands imploringly:
"Oh, papa, let us do it!"
The baron turned to M. de Lamare:
"Will you join us, vicomte? We can take breakfast down there."
And the matter was decided at once. From daybreak Jeanne was up and
waiting for her father, who dressed more slowly. They walked in the
dew across the level and then through the wood vibrant with the
singing of birds. The vicomte and Père Lastique were seated on a
Two other sailors helped to shove off the boat from shore, which was
not easy on the shingly beach. Once the boat was afloat, they all took
their seats, and the two sailors who remained on shore shoved it off.
A light, steady breeze was blowing from the ocean and they hoisted the
sail, veered a little, and then sailed along smoothly with scarcely
any motion. To landward the high cliff at the right cast a shadow on
the water at its base, and patches of sunlit grass here and there
varied its monotonous whiteness. Yonder, behind them, brown sails were
coming out of the white harbor of Fécamp, and ahead of them they saw a
rock of curious shape, rounded, with gaps in it looking something like
an immense elephant with its trunk in the water; it was the little
port of Étretat.
Jeanne, a little dizzy from the motion of the waves, held the side of
the boat with one hand as she looked out into the distance. It seemed
to her as if only three things in the world were really beautiful:
light, space, water.
No one spoke. Père Lastique, who was at the tiller, took a pull every
now and then from a bottle hidden under the seat; and he smoked a
short pipe which seemed inextinguishable, although he never seemed to
relight it or refill it.
The baron, seated in the bow looked after the sail. Jeanne and the
vicomte seemed a little embarrassed at being seated side by side. Some
unknown power seemed to make their glances meet whenever they raised
their eyes; between them there existed already that subtle and vague
sympathy which arises so rapidly between two young people when the
young man is good looking and the girl is pretty. They were happy in
each other's society, perhaps because they were thinking of each
other. The rising sun was beginning to pierce through the slight mist,
and as its beams grew stronger, they were reflected on the smooth
surface of the sea as in a mirror.
"How beautiful!" murmured Jeanne, with emotion.
"Beautiful indeed!" answered the vicomte. The serene beauty of the
morning awakened an echo in their hearts.
And all at once they saw the great arches of Étretat, like two
supports of a cliff standing in the sea high enough for vessels to
pass under them; while a sharp-pointed white rock rose in front of the
first arch. They reached shore, and the baron got out first to make
fast the boat, while the vicomte lifted Jeanne ashore so that she
should not wet her feet. Then they walked up the shingly beach side by
side, and they overheard Père Lastique say to the baron, "My! but they
would make a pretty couple!"
They took breakfast in a little inn near the beach, and while the
ocean had lulled their thoughts and made them silent, the breakfast
table had the opposite effect, and they chattered like children on a
vacation. The slightest thing gave rise to laughter.
Père Lastique, on taking his place at table, carefully hid his lighted
pipe in his cap. That made them laugh. A fly, attracted no doubt by
his red nose, persistently alighted on it, and each time it did so
they burst into laughter. Finally the old man could stand it no
longer, and murmured: "It is devilishly persistent!" whereupon Jeanne
and the vicomte laughed till they cried.
After breakfast Jeanne suggested that they should take a walk. The
vicomte rose, but the baron preferred to bask in the sun on the beach.
"Go on, my children, you will find me here in an hour."
They walked straight ahead of them, passing by several cottages and
finally by a small château resembling a large farm, and found
themselves in an open valley that extended for some distance. They now
had a wild longing to run at large in the fields. Jeanne seemed to
have a humming in her ears from all the new and rapidly changing
sensations she had experienced. The burning rays of the sun fell on
them. On both sides of the road the crops were bending over from the
heat. The grasshoppers, as numerous as the blades of grass, were
uttering their thin, shrill cry.
Perceiving a wood a little further on to the right, they walked over
to it. They saw a narrow path between two hedges shaded by tall trees
which shut out the sun. A sort of moist freshness in the air was
perceptible, giving them a sensation of chilliness. There was no
grass, owing to the lack of sunlight, but the ground was covered with
a carpet of moss.
"See, we can sit down there a little while," she said.
They sat down and looked about them at the numerous forms of life that
were in the air and on the ground at their feet, for a ray of sunlight
penetrating the dense foliage brought them into its light.
"How beautiful it is here! How lovely it is in the country! There are
moments when I should like to be a fly or a butterfly and hide in the
flowers," said Jeanne with emotion.
They spoke in low tones as one does in exchanging confidences, telling
of their daily lives and of their tastes, and declaring that they were
already disgusted with the world, tired of its useless monotony; it
was always the same thing; there was no truth, no sincerity in it.
The world! She would gladly have made its acquaintance; but she felt
convinced beforehand that it was not equal to a country life, and the
more their hearts seemed to be in sympathy, the more ceremonious they
became, the more frequently their glances met and blended smiling; and
it seemed that a new feeling of benevolence was awakened in them, a
wider affection, an interest in a thousand things of which they had
never hitherto thought.
They wended their way back, but the baron had already set off on foot
for the Chambre aux Demoiselles, a grotto in a cleft at the summit of
one of the cliffs, and they waited for him at the inn. He did not
return until five in the evening after a long walk along the cliffs.
They got into the boat, started off smoothly with the wind at their
backs, scarcely seeming to make any headway. The breeze was irregular,
at one moment filling the sail and then letting it flap idly along the
mast. The sea seemed opaque and lifeless, and the sun was slowly
approaching the horizon. The lulling motion of the sea had made them
silent again. Presently Jeanne said, "How I should love to travel!"
"Yes, but it is tiresome to travel alone; there should be at least
two, to exchange ideas," answered the vicomte. She reflected a moment.
"That is true--I like to walk alone, however--how pleasant it is to
dream all alone----"
He gazed at her intently.
"Two can dream as well as one."
She lowered her eyes. Was it a hint? Possibly. She looked out at the
horizon as if to discover something beyond it, and then said slowly:
"I should like to go to Italy--and Greece--ah, yes, Greece--and to
Corsica--it must be so wild and so beautiful!"
He preferred Switzerland on account of its chalets and its lakes.
"No," said she, "I like new countries like Corsica, or very old
countries full of souvenirs, like Greece. It must be delightful to
find the traces of those peoples whose history we have known since
childhood, to see places where great deeds were accomplished."
The vicomte, less enthusiastic, exclaimed: "As for me, England
attracts me very much; there is so much to be learned there."
Then they talked about the world in general, discussing the
attractions of each country from the poles to the equator, enthusing
over imaginary scenes and the peculiar manners of certain peoples like
the Chinese and the Lapps; but they arrived at the conclusion that the
most beautiful country in the world was France, with its temperate
climate, cool in summer, mild in winter, its rich soil, its green
forests, its worship of the fine arts which existed nowhere else since
the glorious centuries of Athens. Then they were silent. The setting
sun left a wide dazzling train of light which extended from the
horizon to the edge of their boat. The wind subsided, the ripples
disappeared, and the motionless sail was red in the light of the dying
day. A limitless calm seemed to settle down on space and make a
silence amid this conjunction of elements; and by degrees the sun
slowly sank into the ocean.
Then a fresh breeze seemed to arise, a little shiver went over the
surface of the water, as if the engulfed orb cast a sigh of
satisfaction across the world. The twilight was short, night fell with
its myriad stars. Père Lastique took the oars, and they saw that the
sea was phosphorescent. Jeanne and the vicomte, side by side, watched
the fitful gleams in the wake of the boat. They were hardly thinking,
but simply gazing vaguely, breathing in the beauty of the evening in a
state of delicious contentment; Jeanne had one hand on the seat and
her neighbor's finger touched it as if by accident; she did not move;
she was surprised, happy, though embarrassed at this slight contact.
When she reached home that evening and went to her room, she felt
strangely disturbed, and so affected that the slightest thing impelled
her to weep. She looked at her clock, imagining that the little bee on
the pendulum was beating like a heart, the heart of a friend; that it
was aware of her whole life, that with its quick, regular tickings it
would accompany her whole life; and she stopped the golden fly to
press a kiss on its wings. She would have kissed anything, no matter
what. She remembered having hidden one of her old dolls of former days
at the bottom of a drawer; she looked for it, took it out, and was
delighted to see it again, as people are to see loved friends; and
pressing it to her heart, she covered its painted cheeks and curly wig
with kisses. And as she held it in her arms, she thought:
Can _he_ be the husband promised through a thousand secret
voices, whom a superlatively good Providence had thus thrown across
her path? Was he, indeed, the being created for her--the being to whom
she would devote her existence? Were they the two predestined beings
whose affection, blending in one, would beget love?
She did not as yet feel that tumultuous emotion, that mad enchantment,
those deep stirrings which she thought were essential to the tender
passion; but it seemed to her she was beginning to fall in love, for
she sometimes felt a sudden faintness when she thought of him, and she
thought of him incessantly. His presence stirred her heart; she
blushed and grew pale when their eyes met, and trembled at the sound
of his voice.
From day to day the longing for love increased. She consulted the
marguerites, the clouds, and coins which she tossed in the air.
One day her father said to her:
"Make yourself look pretty to-morrow morning."
"That is a secret," he replied.
And when she came downstairs the following morning, looking fresh and
sweet in a pretty light dress, she found the drawing-room table
covered with boxes of bonbons, and on a chair an immense bouquet.
A covered wagon drove into the courtyard bearing the inscription,
"Lerat, Confectioner, Fécamp; Wedding Breakfasts," and from the back
of the wagon Ludivine and a kitchen helper were taking out large flat
baskets which emitted an appetizing odor.
The Vicomte de Lamare appeared on the scene, his trousers were
strapped down under his dainty boots of patent leather, which made his
feet appear smaller. His long frock coat, tight at the waist line, was
open at the bosom showing the lace of his ruffle, and a fine neckcloth
wound several times round his neck obliged him to hold erect his
handsome brown head, with its air of serious distinction. Jeanne, in
astonishment, looked at him as though she had never seen him before.
She thought he looked the grand seigneur from his head to his feet.
He bowed and said, smiling:
"Well, comrade, are you ready?"
"But what is it? What is going on?" she stammered.
"You will know presently," said the baron.
The carriage drove up to the door, and Madame Adelaide, in festal
array, descended the staircase, leaning on the arm of Rosalie, who was
so much affected at the sight of M. de Lamare's elegant appearance
that the baron whispered:
"I say, vicomte, I think our maid admires you."
The vicomte blushed up to his ears, pretended not to have heard and,
taking up the enormous bouquet, handed it to Jeanne. She accepted it,
more astonished than ever. They all four got into the carriage, and
Ludivine, who brought a cup of bouillon to the baroness to sustain her
strength, said: "Truly, madame, one would say it was a wedding!"
They alighted as soon as they entered Yport, and as they walked
through the village the sailors, in their new clothes, still showing
the creases, came out of their homes, and shaking hands with the
baron, followed the party as if it were a procession. The vicomte, who
had offered his arm to Jeanne, walked with her at the head.
When they reached the church they stopped, and an acolyte appeared
holding upright the large silver crucifix, followed by another boy in
red and white, who bore a chalice containing holy water.
Then came three old cantors, one of them limping; then the trumpet
("serpent"), and last, the curé with his gold embroidered stole. He
smiled and nodded a greeting; then, with his eyes half closed, his
lips moving in prayer, his beretta well over his forehead, he followed
his surpliced bodyguard, walking in the direction of the sea.
On the beach a crowd was standing around a new boat wreathed with
flowers. Its mast, sail and ropes were covered with long streamers of
ribbon that floated in the breeze, and the name, "Jeanne," was painted
in gold letters on the stern.
Père Lastique, the proprietor of this boat, built with the baron's
money, advanced to meet the procession. All the men, simultaneously,
took off their hats, and a row of pious persons wearing long black
cloaks falling in large folds from their shoulders, knelt down in a
circle at sight of the crucifix.
The curé walked, with an acolyte on either side of him, to one end of
the boat, while at the other end, the three old cantors, in their
white surplices, with a serious air and their eyes fixed on the
psalter, sang at the top of their voices in the clear morning air.
Each time they stopped to take breath, the "serpent" continued its
bellowing alone, and as he puffed out his cheeks the musician's little
gray eyes disappeared, and the skin of his forehead and neck seemed to
The motionless, transparent sea seemed to be taking part meditatively
in the baptism of this boat, rolling its tiny waves, no higher than a
finger, with the faint sound of a rake on the shingle. And the big
white gulls, with their wings unfurled, circled about in the blue
heavens, flying off and then coming back in a curve above the heads of
the kneeling crowd, as if to see what they were doing.
The singing ceased after an Amen that lasted five minutes; and the
priest, in an unctuous voice, murmured some Latin words, of which one
could hear only the sonorous endings. He then walked round the boat,
sprinkling it with holy water, and next began to murmur the "Oremus,"
standing alongside the boat opposite the sponsors, who remained
motionless, hand in hand.
The vicomte had the usual grave expression on his handsome face, but
Jeanne, choking with a sudden emotion, and on the verge of fainting,
began to tremble so violently that her teeth chattered. The dream that
had haunted her for some time was suddenly beginning, as if in a kind
of hallucination, to take the appearance of reality. They had spoken
of a wedding, a priest was present, blessing them; men in surplices
were singing psalms; was it not she whom they were giving in marriage?
Did her fingers send out an electric shock, did the emotion of her
heart follow the course of her veins until it reached the heart of her
companion? Did he understand, did he guess, was he, like herself,
pervaded by a sort of intoxication of love? Or else, did he know by
experience, alone, that no woman could resist him? She suddenly
noticed that he was squeezing her hand, gently at first, and then
tighter, tighter, till he almost crushed it. And without moving a
muscle of his face, without anyone perceiving it, he said--yes, he
"Oh, Jeanne, if you would consent, this would be our betrothal."
She lowered her head very slowly, perhaps meaning it for "yes." And
the priest, who was still sprinkling the holy water, sprinkled some on
The ceremony was over. The women rose. The return was unceremonious.
The crucifix had lost its dignity in the hands of the acolyte, who
walked rapidly, the crucifix swaying to right and left, or bending
forward as though it would fall. The priest, who was not praying now,
walked hurriedly behind them; the cantors and the musician with the
"serpent" had disappeared by a narrow street, so as to get off their
surplices without delay; and the sailors hurried along in groups. One
thought prompted their haste, and made their mouths water.
A good breakfast was awaiting them at "The Poplars."
The large table was set in the courtyard, under the apple trees.
Sixty people sat down to table, sailors and peasants. The baroness in
the middle, with a priest at either side of her, one from Yport, and
the other belonging to "The Poplars." The baron seated opposite her on
the other side of the table, the mayor on one side of him, and his
wife, a thin peasant woman, already aging, who kept smiling and bowing
to all around her, on the other.
Jeanne, seated beside her co-sponsor, was in a sea of happiness. She
saw nothing, knew nothing, and remained silent, her mind bewildered
with joy. Presently she said:
"What is your Christian name?"
"Julien," he replied. "Did you not know?"
But she made no reply, thinking to herself:
"How often I shall repeat that name!"
When the feast was over, the courtyard was given up to the sailors,
and the others went over to the other side of the château. The
baroness began to take her exercise, leaning on the arm of the baron
and accompanied by the two priests. Jeanne and Julien went toward the
wood and walked along one of the mossy paths. Suddenly seizing her
hands, the vicomte said:
"Tell me, will you be my wife?"
She lowered her head, and as he stammered: "Answer me, I implore you!"
she raised her eyes to his timidly, and he read his answer there.
* * * * *
MARRIAGE AND DISILLUSION
The baron, one morning, entered Jeanne's room before she was up, and
sitting down at the foot of her bed, said:
"M. le Vicomte de Lamare has asked us for your hand in marriage."
She wanted to hide her face under the sheets.
Her father continued:
"We have postponed our answer for the present."
She gasped, choking with emotion. At the end of a minute the baron,
"We did not wish to do anything without consulting you. Your mother
and I are not opposed to this marriage, but we would not seek to
influence you. You are much richer than he is; but, when it is a
question of the happiness of a life, one should not think too much
about money. He has no relations left. If you marry him, then, it
would be as if a son should come into our family; if it were anyone
else, it would be you, our daughter, who would go among strangers. The
young fellow pleases us. Would he please you?"
She stammered, blushing up to the roots of her hair:
"I am willing, papa."
And the father, looking into her eyes and still smiling, murmured:
"I half suspected it, young lady."
She lived till evening in a condition of exhilaration, not knowing
what she was doing, mechanically thinking of one thing by mistake for
another, and with a feeling of weariness, although she had not walked
Toward six o'clock, as she was sitting with her mother under the plane
tree, the vicomte appeared.
Jeanne's heart began to throb wildly. The young man approached them
apparently without any emotion. When he was close beside them, he took
the baroness' hand and kissed her fingers, then raising to his lips
the trembling hand of the young girl, he imprinted upon it a long,
tender and grateful kiss.
And the radiant season of betrothal commenced. They would chat
together alone in the corner of the parlor, or else seated on the moss
at the end of the wood overlooking the plain. Sometimes they walked in
Little Mother's Avenue; he, talking of the future, she, with her eyes
cast down, looking at the dusty footprints of the baroness.
Once the matter was decided, they desired to waste no time in
preliminaries. It was, therefore, decided that the ceremony should
take place in six weeks, on the fifteenth of August; and that the
bride and groom should set out immediately on their wedding journey.
Jeanne, on being consulted as to which country she would like to
visit, decided on Corsica where they could be more alone than in the
cities of Italy.
They awaited the moment appointed for their marriage without too great
impatience, but enfolded, lost in a delicious affection, expressed in
the exquisite charm of insignificant caresses, pressure of hands, long
passionate glances in which their souls seemed to blend; and, vaguely
tortured by an uncertain longing for they knew not what.
They decided to invite no one to the wedding except Aunt Lison, the
baron's sister, who boarded in a convent at Versailles. After the
death of their father, the baroness wished to keep her sister with
her. But the old maid, possessed by the idea that she was in every
one's way, was useless, and a nuisance, retired into one of those
religious houses that rent apartments to people that live a sad and
lonely existence. She came from time to time to pass a month or two
with her family.
She was a little woman of few words, who always kept in the
background, appeared only at mealtimes, and then retired to her room
where she remained shut in.
She looked like a kind old lady, though she was only forty-two, and
had a sad, gentle expression. She was never made much of by her family
as a child, being neither pretty nor boisterous, she was never petted,
and she would stay quietly and gently in a corner. She had been
neglected ever since. As a young girl nobody paid any attention to
her. She was something like a shadow, or a familiar object, a living
piece of furniture that one is accustomed to see every day, but about
which one does not trouble oneself.
Her sister, from long habit, looked upon her as a failure, an
altogether insignificant being. They treated her with careless
familiarity which concealed a sort of contemptuous kindness. She
called herself Lise, and seemed embarrassed at this frivolous youthful
name. When they saw that she probably would not marry, they changed it
from Lise to Lison, and since Jeanne's birth, she had become "Aunt
Lison," a poor relation, very neat, frightfully timid, even with her
sister and her brother-in-law, who loved her, but with an uncertain
affection verging on indifference, with an unconscious compassion and
a natural benevolence.
Sometimes, when the baroness talked of far away things that happened
in her youth, she would say, in order to fix a date: "It was the time
that Lison had that attack."
They never said more than that; and this "attack" remained shrouded,
as in a mist.
One evening, Lise, who was then twenty, had thrown herself into the
water, no one knew why. Nothing in her life, her manner, gave any
intimation of this seizure. They fished her out half dead, and her
parents, raising their hands in horror, instead of seeking the
mysterious cause of this action, had contented themselves with calling
it "that attack," as if they were talking of the accident that
happened to the horse "Coco," who had broken his leg a short time
before in a ditch, and whom they had been obliged to kill.
From that time Lise, presently Lison, was considered feeble-minded.
The gentle contempt which she inspired in her relations gradually made
its way into the minds of all those who surrounded her. Little Jeanne
herself, with the natural instinct of children, took no notice of her,
never went up to kiss her good-night, never went into her room. Good
Rosalie, alone, who gave the room all the necessary attention, seemed
to know where it was situated.
When Aunt Lison entered the dining-room for breakfast, the little one
would go up to her from habit and hold up her forehead to be kissed;
that was all.
If anyone wished to speak to her, they sent a servant to call her, and
if she was not there, they did not bother about her, never thought of
her, never thought of troubling themselves so much as to say: "Why, I
have not seen Aunt Lison this morning!"
When they said "Aunt Lison," these two words awakened no feeling of
affection in anyone's mind. It was as if one had said: "The coffee
pot, or the sugar bowl."
She always walked with little, quick, silent steps, never made a
noise, never knocking up against anything; and seemed to communicate
to surrounding objects the faculty of not making any sound. Her hands
seemed to be made of a kind of wadding, she handled everything so
lightly and delicately.
She arrived about the middle of July, all upset at the idea of this
marriage. She brought a quantity of presents which, as they came from
her, remained almost unnoticed. On the following day they had
forgotten she was there at all.
But an unusual emotion was seething in her mind, and she never took
her eyes off the engaged couple. She interested herself in Jeanne's
trousseau with a singular eagerness, a feverish activity, working like
a simple seamstress in her room, where no one came to visit her.
She was continually presenting the baroness with handkerchiefs she had
hemmed herself, towels on which she had embroidered a monogram, saying
as she did so: "Is that all right, Adelaide?" And little mother, as
she carelessly examined the objects, would reply: "Do not give
yourself so much trouble, my poor Lison."
One evening, toward the end of the month, after an oppressively warm
day, the moon rose on one of those clear, mild nights which seem to
move, stir and affect one, apparently awakening all the secret poetry
of one's soul. The gentle breath of the fields was wafted into the
quiet drawing-room. The baroness and her husband were playing cards by
the light of a lamp, and Aunt Lison was sitting beside them knitting;
while the young people, leaning on the window sill, were gazing out at
the moonlit garden.
The linden and the plane tree cast their shadows on the lawn which
extended beyond it in the moonlight, as far as the dark wood.
Attracted by the tender charm of the night, and by this misty
illumination that lighted up the trees and the bushes, Jeanne turned
toward her parents and said: "Little father, we are going to take a
short stroll on the grass in front of the house."
The baron replied, without looking up: "Go, my children," and
continued his game.
They went out and began to walk slowly along the moonlit lawn as far
as the little wood at the end. The hour grew late and they did not
think of going in. The baroness grew tired, and wishing to retire, she
"We must call the lovers in."
The baron cast a glance across the spacious garden where the two forms
were wandering slowly.
"Let them alone," he said; "it is so delicious outside! Lison will
wait for them, will you not, Lison?"
The old maid raised her troubled eyes and replied in her timid voice:
"Certainly, I will wait for them."
Little father gave his hand to the baroness, weary himself from the
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