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severance, he was continually seeking to analyze and
understand the obscure depths of this feminine soul,
this incomprehensible mixture of bright intelligence
and disenchantment, of sober reason and childish
triviality, of apparent affection and fickleness, of all
those ill-assorted inclinations that can be brought to-
gether and co-ordinated to form an unnatural, per-
plexing, and seductive being.

But why was it that she attracted him thus ? He
constantly asked himself this question, and was unable
to find a satisfactory answer to it, for, with his reflec-
tive, observing, and proudly retiring nature, his logical
course would have been to look in a woman for those
old-fashioned and soothing attributes of tenderness
and constancy which seem to offer the most reliable
assurance of happiness to a man. In her, however,
he had encountered something that he had not ex-
pected to find, a sort of early vegetable of the human
race, as it were, one of those creatures who are the
beginning of a new generation, exciting one by their
strange novelty, unlike anything that one has ever
known before, and even in their imperfections awak-
ening the dormant senses by a formidable power of

To the romantic and dreamily passionate women
of the Restoration had succeeded the gay triflers of
the imperial epoch, convinced that pleasure is a real-
ity; and now, here there was afforded him a new


development of this everlasting femininity, a woman
of refinement, of indeterminate sensibility, restless,
without fixed resolves, her feelings in constant tur-
moil, who seemed to have made it part of her
experience to employ every narcotic that quiets the
aching nerves: chloroform that stupefies, ether and
morphine that excite to abnormal reverie, kill the
senses, and deaden the emotions.

He relished in her that flavor of an artificial na-
ture, the sole object of whose existence was to charm
and allure. She was a rare and attractive bauble,
exquisite and delicate, drawing men's eyes to her,
causing the heart to throb, and desire to awake,
as one's appetite is excited when he looks through
the glass of the shop-window and beholds the dainty
viands that have been prepared and arranged for the
purpose of making him hunger for them.

When he was quite assured that he had started
on his perilous descent toward the bottom of the
gulf, he began to reflect with consternation upon the
dangers of his infatuation. What would happen him ?
What would she do with him ? Most assuredly she
would do with him what she had done with every-
one else: she would bring him to the point where a
man follows a woman's capricious fancies as a dog
follows his master's steps, and she would classify him
among her collection of more or less illustrious favor-
ites. Had she really played this game with all the
others? Was there not one, not a single one, whom
she had loved, if only for a month, a day, an hour,
in one of those effusions of feeling that she had the
faculty of repressing so readily ? He talked with them
interminably about her as they came forth from her



dinners, warmed by contact with her. He felt that
they were all uneasy, dissatisfied, unstrung, like men
whose dreams have failed of realization.

No, she had loved no one among these paraders
before public curiosity. But he, who was a nullity in
comparison with them, he, to whom it was not
granted that heads should turn and wondering eyes
be fixed on him when his name was mentioned in a
crowd or in a salon, — what would he be for her.^
Nothing, nothing; a mere supernumerary upon her
scene, a Monsieur, the sort of man that becomes a
familiar, commonplace attendant upon a distinguished
woman, useful to hold her bouquet, a man compara-
ble to the common grade of wine that one drinks
with water. Had he been a famous man he might
have been willing to accept this role, which his
celebrity would have made less humiliating; but un-
known as he was, he would have none of it. So he
wrote to bid her farewell.

When he received her brief answer he was moved
by it as by the intelligence of some unexpected piece
of good fortune, and when she had made him promise
that he would not go away he was as delighted as a
schoolboy released for a holiday.

Several days elapsed without bringing any fresh
development to their relations, but when the calm
that succeeds the storm had passed, he felt his long-
ing for her increasing within him and burning him.
He had promised that he would never again speak to
her on the forbidden topic, but he had not promised
that he would not write, and one night when he
could not sleep, when she had taken possession of all
his faculties in the restless vigil of his insomnia of

9 G. de M.— 4



love, he seated himself at his table, almost against his
will, and set himself to put down his feelings and
his sufferings upon fair, white paper. It was not a
letter; it was an aggregation of notes, phrases,
thoughts, throbs of moral anguish, transmuting them-
selves into words, it soothed him; it seemed to him
to give him a little comfort in his suffering, and lying
down upon his bed, he was at last able to obtain
some sleep.

Upon awaking the next morning he read over
these few pages and decided that they were suffi-
ciently harrowing; then he inclosed and addressed
them, kept them by him until evening, and mailed
them very late so that she might receive them when
she arose. He thought that she would not be alarmed
by these innocent sheets of paper. The most timor-
ous of women have an infinite kindness for a letter
that speaks to them of a sincere love, and when these
letters are written by a trembling hand, with tearful
eyes and melancholy face, the power that they exer-
cise over the female heart is unbounded.

He went to her house late that afternoon to see
how she would receive him and what she would say
to him. He found M. de Pradon there, smoking
cigarettes and conversing with his daughter. He
would often pass whole hours with her in this way,
for his manner toward her was rather that of a gentle-
man visitor than of a father. She had brought into
their relations and their affection a tinge of that homage
of love which she bestowed upon herself and exacted
from everyone else.

When she beheld Mariolle her face brightened
with delight; she shook hands with him warmly and



her smile told him: "You have afforded me much

Mariolle was in hopes that the father would go
away soon, but M. de Pradon did not budge. Al-
though he knew his daughter thoroughly, and for a
long time past had placed the most impUcit con-
fidence in her as regarded her relations with men, he
always kept an eye on her with a kind of curious,
uneasy, somewhat marital attention. He wanted to
know what chance of success there might be for this
newly discovered friend, who he was, what he
amounted to. Would he be a mere bird of passage,
like so many others, or a permanent member of their
usual circle ?

He intrenched himself, therefore, and Mariolle im-
mediately perceived that he was not to be dislodged.
The visitor made up his mind accordingly, and even
resolved to gain him over if it were possible, con-
sidering that his good-will, or at any rate his neutral-
ity, would be better than his hostility. He exerted
himself and was brilliant and amusing, without any
of the airs of a sighing lover. She said to herself
contentedly: "He is not stupid; he acts his part in
the comedy extremely well"; and M. de Pradon
thought: "This is a very agreeable man, whose head
my daughter does not seem to have turned."

When Mariolle decided that it was time for him to
take his leave, he left them both delighted with him.

But he left that house with sorrow in his soul.
In the presence of that woman he felt deeply the
bondage in which she held him, realizing that it
would be vain to knock at that heart, as a man
imprisoned fruitlessly beats the iron door with his



fist. He was well assured that he was entirely in
her power, and he did not try to free himself. Such
being the case, and as he could not avoid this fatal-
ity, he resolved that he would be patient, tenacious,
cunning, dissembling, that he would conquer by ad-
dress, by the homage that she was so greedy of, by
the adoration that intoxicated her, by the voluntary
servitude to which he would suffer himself to be

His letter had pleased her; he v/ould write. He
wrote. Almost every night, when he came home, at
that hour when the mind, fresh from the influence of
the day's occurrences, regards whatever interests or
moves it with a sort of abnormally developed halluci-
nation, he would seat himself at his table by his
lamp and exalt his imagination by thoughts of her.
The poetic germ, that so many indolent men suffer
to perish within them from mere slothfulness, grew
and throve under this reeimen. He infused a feverish
ardor into this task of literary tenderness by means of
constantly writing the same thing, the same idea, that
is, his love, in expressions that were ever renewed
by the constantly fresh-springing, daily renewal of
his desire. All through the long day he would seek
for and find those irresistible words that stream from
the brain like fiery sparks, compelled by the over-
excited emotions. Thus he would breathe upon th^
fire of his own heart and kindle it into raging flames,
for often love-letters contain more danger for him
who writes than for her who receives them.

By keeping himself in this continuous state of ef-
fervescence, by heating his blood with words and
peopling his brain with one solitary thought, his ideas



gradually became confused as to the reality of this
woman. He had ceased to entertain the opinion of
her that he had first held, and now beheld her only
through the medium of his own lyrical phrases, and
all that he wrote of her night by night became to his
heart so many gospel truths. This daily labor of
idealization displayed her to him as in a dream. His
former resistance melted away, moreover, in presence
of the affection that Mme. de Burne undeniably evinced
for him. Although no word had passed between
them at this time, she certainly showed a preference
for him beyond others, and took no pains to conceal
it from him. He therefore thought, with a kind of
mad hope, that she might finally come to love him.

The fact was that the charm of those letters af-
forded her a complicated and naive delight. No one
had ever flattered and caressed her in that manner,
with such m.ute reserve. No one had ever had the
delicious idea of sending to her bedside, every morn-
ing, that feast of sentiment in paper wrapping that
her maid presented to her on the little silver salver.
And what made it all the dearer in her eyes was that
he never mentioned it, that he seemed to be quite
unaware of it himself, that when he visited her salon
he was the most undemonstrative of her friends, that
he never by word or look alluded to those showers
of tenderness that he was secretly raining down upon

Of course she had had love-letters before that, but
they had been pitched in a different key, had been
less reserved, more pressing, more like a summons
to surrender. For the three months that his "crisis"
had lasted Lamarthe had dedicated to her a very nice


correspondence from a much-smitten novelist who
maunders in a literary way. She kept in her secre-
tary, in a drawer specially allotted to them, these
delicate and seductive epistles from a writer who had
shown much feeling, who had caressed her with his
pen up to the very day when he saw that he had no
hope of success.

Mariolle's letters were quite different; they were so
strong in their concentrated desire, so deep in the ex-
pression of their sincerity, so humble in their sub-
missiveness, breathing a devotion that promised to be
lasting, that she received and read them with a de-
light that no other writings could have afforded her.

It was natural that her friendly feeling for the man
should increase under such conditions. She invited
him to her house the more frequently because he dis-
played such entire reserve in his relations toward her,
seeming not to have the slightest recollection in con-
versation with her that he had ever taken up a sheet
of paper to tell her of his adoration. Moreover she
looked upon the situation as an original one, worthy of
being celebrated in a book; and in the depths of her
satisfaction in having at her side a being who loved
her thus, she experienced a sort of active fermenta-
tion of sympathy which caused her to measure him
by a standard other than her usual one.

Up to the present time, notwithstanding the vanity
of her coquetry she had been conscious of preoccu-
pations that antagonized her in all the hearts that
she had laid waste. She had not held undisputed
sovereignty over them, she had found in them pow-
erful interests that were entirely dissociated from her.
Jealous of music in Massival's case, of literature in


Lamarthe's, always jealous of something, discontented
that she only obtained partial successes, powerless to
drive all before her in the minds of these ambitious
men, men of celebrity, or artists to whom their
profession was a mistress from whom nobody could
part them, she had now for the first time fallen in
with one to whom she was all in all. Certainly big
Fresnel, and he alone, loved her to the same degree.
But then he was big Fresnel. She felt that it had
never been granted her to exercise such complete
dominion over anyone, and her selfish gratitude for
the man who had afforded her this triumph displayed
itself in manifestations of tenderness. She had need
of him now; she had need of his presence, of his
glance, of his subjection, of all this domesticity of
love. If he flattered her vanity less than the others
did, he flattered more those supreme exactions that
sway coquettes body and soul — her pride and her in-
stinct of domination, her strong instinct of feminine

Like an invader she gradually assumed possession
of his life by a series of small incursions that every
day became more numerous. She got up fetes,
theater-parties, and dinners at the restaurant, so that
he might be of the party. She dragged him after her
with the satisfaction of a conqueror; she could not
dispense with his presence, or rather with the state
of slavery to which he was reduced. He followed in
her train, happy to feel himself thus petted, caressed
by her eyes, her voice, by her every caprice, and he
lived only in a continuous transport of love and
longing that desolated and burned like a wasting


The Benefit of Change of Scene



ne day Mariolle had gone to her
house. He was awaiting her,
for she had not come in, al-
though she had sent him a tele-
gram to tell him that she wanted
to see him that morning. When-
ever he was alone in this drawing-
room which it gave him such pleasure
to enter and where everything was so
charming to him, he nevertheless was
conscious of an oppression of the heart,
- - a slight feeling of affright and breathless-
'-''•' ness that would not allow him to remain
seated as long as she was not there. He walked
about the room in joyful expectation, dashed by the
fear that some unforeseen obstacle might intervene to
detain her and cause their interview to go over until
next day. His heart gave a hopeful bound when he
heard a carriage draw up before the street door, and
when the bell of the apartment rang he ceased to



She came in with her hat on, a thing which
she was not accustomed to do, wearing a busy and
satisfied look. "I have some news for you," she

"What is it, Madame ?"

She looked at him and laughed. "Well! I am
going to the country for a while."

Her words produced in him a quick, sharp shock
of sorrow that was reflected upon his face. "Oh!
and you tell me that as if you were glad of it!"

"Yes. Sit down and I will tell you all about it.
1 don't know whether you are aware that M. Valsaci,
my poor mother's brother, the engineer and bridge-
builder, has a country-place at Avranches where he
spends a portion of his time with his wife and chil-
dren, for his business lies mostly in that neighbor-
hood. We pay them a visit every summer. This
year I said that I did not care to go, but he was
greatly disappointed and made quite a time over it
with papa. Speaking of scenes, 1 will tell you con-
fidentially that papa is jealous of you and makes
scenes with me, too; he says that I am entangling
myself with you. You will have to come to see me
less frequently. But don't let that trouble you; 1 will
arrange matters. So papa gave me a scolding and
made me promise to go to Avranches for a visit of
ten days, perhaps twelve. We are to start Tuesday
morning. What have you got to say about it?"

"I say that it breaks my heart."

"Is that all.?"

"What more can I say? There is no way of pre-
venting you from going."

"And nothing presents itself to you?"


"Why, no; I can't say that there does. And
you ? "

"I have an idea; it is this: Avranches is quite
near Mont Saint-Michel. Hive you ever been at Mont
Saint-Michel ?"

"No, Jvladame."

"Well, something will tell you next Friday that
you want to go and see this wonder. You will leave
the train at Avranches; on Friday evening at sunset,
if you please, you will take a walk in the public
garden that overlooks the bay. We will happen to
meet there. Papa will grumble, but 1 don't care for
that. I will make up a party to go and see the
abbey next day, including all the family. You must
be enthusiastic over it, and very charming, as you
can be when you choose; be attentive to my aunt
and gain her over, and invite us all to dine at the
inn where we alight. We will sleep there, and will
have all the next day to be together. You will re-
turn by way of Saint Malo, and a week later I shall
be back in Paris. Isn't that an ingenious scheme.^
Am I not nice?"

With an outburst of grateful feeling, he murmured:
"You are dearer to me than all the world."

"Hush!" said she.

They looked each other for a moment in the face.
She smiled, conveying to him in that smile — very
sincere and earnest it was, almost tender — all her
gratitude, her thanks for his love, and her sympathy
as well. He gazed upon her with eyes that seemed
to devour her. He had an insane desire to throw
himself down and grovel at her feet, to kiss the hem
of her robe, to cry aloud and make her see what he


knew not how to tell in words, what existed in all
his form from head to feet, in every fiber of his body
as well as in his heart, paining him inexpressibly be-
cause he could not display it — his love, his terrible
and delicious love.

There was no need of words, however; she un-
derstood him, as the marksman instinctively feels that
his ball has penetrated the bull's-eye of the target.
Nothing any longer subsisted within this man, noth-
ing, nothing but her image. He was hers more than
she herself was her own. She was satisfied, and she
thought he was charming.

She said to him, in high good-humor: "Then
that is settled; the excursion is agreed on."

He answered in a voice that trembled with emo-
tion: "Why, yes, Madame, it is agreed on."

There was another interval of silence. "I cannot
let you stay any longer to-day," she said without
further apology. "I only ran in to tell you what I
have told you, since 1 am to start day after to-
morrow. All my time will be occupied to-morrow,
and I have still half-a-dozen things to attend to be-
fore dinner-time."

He arose at once, deeply troubled, for the sole de-
sire of his heart was to be with her always; and
having kissed her hands, went his way, sore at heart,
but hopeful nevertheless.

The four intervening days were horribly long ones
to him. He got through them somehow in Paris
without seeing a soul, preferring silence to conversa-
tion, and solitude to the company of friends.

On Friday morning, therefore, he boarded the
eight-o'clock express. The anticipation of the jour-


ney had made him feverish, and he had not slept a
wink. The darkness of his room and its silence,
broken only by the occasional rattling of some be-
lated cab that served to remind him of his longing
to be off, had weighed upon him all night long like
a prison.

At the earliest ray of light that showed itself be-
tween his drawn curtains, the gray, sad light of early
morning, he jumped from his bed, opened the win-
dow, and looked at the sky. He had been haunted
by the fear that the weather might be unfavorable. It
was clear. There was a light floating mist, presaging
a warm day. He dressed more quickly than was
needful, and in his consuming impatience to get out
of doors and at last begin his journey he was ready
two hours too soon, and nothing would do but his
valet must go out and get a cab lest they should all
be gone from the stand. As the vehicle jolted over
the stones, its movements were so many shocks of
happiness to him, but when he reached the Mont
Parnasse station and found that he had fifty minutes
to wait before the departure of the train, his spirits
fell again.

There was a compartment disengaged; he took it
so that he might be alone and give free course to his
reveries. When at last he felt himself moving, hurry-
ing along toward her, soothed by the gentle and
rapid motion of the train, his eagerness, instead of
being appeased, was still further excited, and he felt
a desire, the unreasoning desire of a child, to push
with all his strength against the partition in front of
him, so as to accelerate their speed. For a long
time, until midday, he remained in this condition of


Waiting expectancy, but when they were past Ar-
gentan his eyes were gradually attracted to the
window by the fresh verdure of the Norman land-

The train was passing through a wide, undulating
region, intersected by valleys, where the peasant
holdings, mostly in grass and apple-orchards, were
shut in by great trees, the thick-leaved tops of which
seemed to glow in the sunlight. It was late in July,
that lusty season when this land, an abundant nurse,
gives generously of its sap and life. In all the in-
cisures, separated from each other by these leafy
walls, great light-colored oxen, cows whose flanks
were striped with undefined figures of odd design,
huge, red, wide-fronted bulls of proud and quarrel-
some aspect, with their hanging dewlaps of hairy
flesh, standing by the fences or lying down among
the pasturage that stuffed their paunches, succeeded
each other, until there seemed to be no end to them
in this fresh, fertile land, the soil of which appeared
to exude cider and fat sirloins. In every direction
little streams were gliding in and out among the
poplars, partially concealed by a thin screen of wil-
lows; brooks glittered for an instant among the herb-
age, disappearing only to show themselves again
farther on, bathing all the scene in their vivifying
coolness. Mariolle was charmed at the sight, and al-
most forgot his love for a moment in his rapid flight
through this far-reaching park of apple-trees and flocks
and herds.

When he had changed cars at Folligny station,
however, he was agam seized with an impatient
longing to be at his destination, and during the last


forty minutes he took out his watch twenty times.
His head was constantly turned toward the window
of the car, and at last, situated upon a hill of moder-
ate height, he beheld the city where she was wait-
ing for his coming. The train had been delayed, and
now only an hour separated him from the moment
when he was to come upon her, by chance, on the
public promenade.

He was the only passenger that climbed into the
hotel omnibus, which the horses began to drag up
the steep road of Avranches with slow and reluctant
steps. The houses crowning the heights gave to the
place from a distance the appearance of a fortification.
Seen close at hand it was an ancient and pretty
Norman city, with small dwellings of regular and
almost similar appearance built closely adjoining one
another, giving an aspect of ancient pride and modern
comfort, a feudal yet peasant-like air.

As soon as Mariolle had secured a room and

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Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe life work of Henri René Guy de Maupassant (Volume 9) → online text (page 4 of 20)