Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

. (page 118 of 125)
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gentle rustle of the dress so dear to the
feminine heart, to that caress, at once
lover-like and maternal, which renders
life pleasant, to that loved presence that
made the hours move less slowly. He
was also accustomed to being spoiled at
table, perhaps, and to all those atten-
tions which become, little by little, so

"He could no longer live alone. Then,
to pass the interminable evenings, he
got into the habit of spending an hour
or two in a neighboring wine shop. He
would drink a glass and sit there motion-
less, following, with heedless eye, the
billiard balls running after one another
under the smoke of the pipes, listening
to, without hearing, the discussion of
the players, the disputes of his neigh-
bors over politics, and the sound of
laughter that sometimes went up from
the other end of the room, from some
unusual joke. He often ended by going
to sleep, from sheer lassitude and weari-
ness. But, at the bottom of his heart
and of his flesh, there was the irrcsist-

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/need of a woman's heart and flesh;

ad, without thinking, he approached
each evening a little nearer to the desk
where the cashier, a pretty blonde, sat,
attracted to her unconquerably, because
she was a woman.

"At first they chatted, and he got into
the habit, so pleasant for him, of pass-
ing the evening by her side. She was
gracious and kind, as one learns in this
occupation to smile, and she amused her-
self by making him renew his order as
often as possible, which makes business

"But each day Loug^re was becoming
more and more attached to this woman
whom he did not know, whose whole
existence he was ignorant of, and whom
he loved only because he was in the
way of seeing nobody else.

"The little creature was crafty, and
soon perceived that she could reap some
benefit from this guileless man; she then
sought out the best means of exploitmg
him. The most effective, surely, was to
marry him.

"TTiis she accomplished without diffi-

"Need I tell you, gentlemen of the
jury, that the conduct of this girl had
been most irregular and that marriage,
far from putting a check to het flight,
seemed on the contrary to render it more

"From the natural sport of feminine
astuteness, she seemed to take pleasure
in deceiving this honest man with all
the employees of his office. I said with
all. We have letters, gentlemen. There
was soon a public scandal, of which the
husband alone, as usual, was the only
one ignorant.

**JFinally, this wretch, with an interest

easy to understand, seduced the son of
the proprietor, a young man nineteen
years old, upon whose mind and judg-
ment she had a deplorable influence. Mr.
Langlais, whose eyes had been closed up
to that time, through friendship for his
employee, resented having his son in the
hands, I should say in the arms of this
dangerous woman, and was legitimately

"He made the mistake of calling
Loug^re to him on the spot and of
speaking to him of his paternal indig-

"There remains nothing more for me
to say, gentlemen, except to read to you
the recital of the crime, made by the
lips of the dying man, and submitted as
evidence. It says:

"T learned. that my son had given to
this woman, that same night, ten thou-
sand francs, and my anger was stronger
on that account Certainly, I never sus-
pected the honorableness of Lougere, but
a certain kind of blindness is more dan-
gerous than positive faults. And so I
had him come to me and told him that I
should be obliged to deprive myself of
his services.

** *He remained standing before mc,
terrified, and not comprehending. He
ended by demanding, rather excitedly,
some explanation. I refused to give him
any, affirming that my reasons were
wholly personal. He believed then that
I suspected him of indelicacy and, very
pale, besought, implored me to explain.
Held by this idea, he was strong and
began to talk loud. As I Irept silent,
he abused and insulted me, imtil he ar-
rived at such a degree of ^<;jxasperation
that I was fearful of resultsT

"*Then, suddenly, upon' a woundini?
word that struck upon a full heart, I
threw the whole truth in his face.

"'He stood still some seconds, lookin'
at me with haggard eyes. Then I saw

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him take from my desk the long shears,
which I use for making margins to cer-
tain registers, I saw him fall upon me
with uplifted arm, and I felt something
enter my throat just above the breast,
without noticing any pain.*

'*This, gentlemen of the jury, is the

simple recital of this murder. What
more can be said for his defense? He
respected his second wife with blindness
because he respected his first with

After a short deliberation, the prisoner
was acquitted.


The widow of Paolo Saverini lived
alone with her son in a poor little house
on the ramparts of Bonifacio. The
town, built upon the side of the moun-
tain, suspended in spots above the sea,
overlooks, through a defile bristling
with rocks, the lowest part of Sardinia.
At its foot, on the other side, and
almost entirely surrounding it, is a cut
in the cliff, which resembles a gigantic
corridor and serves as a port; it leads
tip to the first houses (after a long
circuit between the two abrupt walls),
the little Italian or Sardinian fishing-
boats, and, every two weeks, the old,
broken-winded steamer that plies be-
tween there and Ajaccio.

Upon the white mountains, the bunch
of houses makes a spot whiter still.
They have the appearance of nests of
wild birds, fastened thus upon this rock,
overlooking this terrible passageway
where ships scarcely dare venture. The
wind, without repose, harasses the sea,
harasses the bare coast, which is
nibbled by it until it has but little vege-
tation; it i^hes into the defile, whose
two sides it strips bare. The track of
pale foam, fastened to black points on
the innumerable rocks which pierce the
waves, has the look of bits of cloth

floating and palpitating upon the surface
of the water.

The house of the widow Saverini,
soldered to the edge of the cliff, had
three windows opening upon this wild
and desolated horizon.

She lived there alone, with her son
Antoine and their dog Semillante, a
great, thin beast with long, coarse hair,
of a race that watches the herds. This
dog served the young man for hunltng.

One evening, after a dispute, Antoine
Savtrini was killed traitorously with a
blow of a knife by Nicholas Ravolati
who, the same night, went over t<^y

When the old woman received the
body of her child, which some passers-
by brought to her, she did not weep but
remained a long time motionless, look-
ing at him. Then, extending her
wrinkled hand upon the dead body, she
promised revenge. She did not wish
anyone to remain with her, and she shut
herself up with the body and the dog.

The dog howled. She howled, this
beast, in a continuous fashion, at the
foot of the bed, her head extended
toward her master, her tail held fast be-
tween her legs. She no more stirred
than did the mother, who, hanging noB

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iipon the body, her eyes fixed, was
weeping great tears while gazing at him.

TTie young man, upon his back,
clothed in his coat of gray cloth, torn
and bloody about the breast, seemed to
be asleep. And there was blood every-
where: on his shirt, drawn up in the first
moments, on his waistcoat, his trousers,
upon his face, and his hands. Little
clots of blood had coagulated in his
beard and in his hair.

The old mother began to speak to
him. At the soxmd of her voice, the
dog was silent.

**Come, come," she said, "you shall
be avenged, my little one, my boy, my
poor child. Sleep, sleep, you shall be
avenged, do you hear? It is your
mother who promises! And she always
keeps her word, does your mother, as
you know well."

And gently she bent over him, gluing
her cold lips to his dead mouth. Then
Semillante began to groan again. She
uttered a long, plaintive monotone, har-
rowing and terrible.

There they remained, the corpse, the
woman and the beast, until morning

Antoine Saverini was buried the next
day, and soon no one spoke of him more
in Bonifacio.

He had left no brother, no near rela-
tives. There was no man to follow up
the revenge. Alone, the mother thought
of it, the old woman.

On the other side of the defile she
saw, each morning and evening, a white
spot on the coast. It was the little
Sardinian village, Longosardo, where
Corsican bandits took refuge when too
closely pursued. They almost peopled
this hamlet, opposite the shore of their

own country, and awaited there t
moment of returning, of going ba
again to the brakes. It was in tl
village, she knew, that Nicholas Ravoli
had t^en refuge.

All alone, the whole day long, scaU
before her window, she would look don
there and think of vengeance. Ho
could she do it without anyone to he!
infirm as she was and so near deai
But she had promised, she had sworn
upon his dead body. She could n
forget, she must not delay. Ho
should she accomplish it? She could n
sleep at night; she had no repose, i
ease; she sought obstinately. The d
slept at her feet, and, sometimes raisii
her head, howled to the distance. Sin
her master was no longer there, s
often howled thus, as if she were cal
ing him, as if her soul, that of an in-
consolable beast, had preserved a it
membrance of l:dm that nothing could

One night, as Semillante began to
howl in this way, the mother suddenly
had an idea, a savage, vindictive, fero-
cious idea. She meditated upon it until
morning; then, rising at the approach oi
day, she betook herself to the churd
She prayed, prostrate upon the floor,
humbled before God, supiJicating him to
aid her, to sustain her, to give to hei
poor, spent body force that would be
sufl&cient to avenge the death of her son.

Then she returned. She had in bet
yard an old barrel with the head
knocked in, which caught the rain from
the gutters. She emptied iC and turned
it over, making it fast to the soil by
means of some stakes and stones; then
she chained Semillante in this niche and
went into her house.

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e Now she walked about constantly in
i^er room, without repose, her eye fixed
^upon the coast of Sardinia. He was
;|iown there, was that assassin.

The dog howled all day and all night.
.ff!hiQ old woman carried her some water
^ the morning, in a bowl. But nothing
g^ore; no soup, no bread.
V The day slipped away. Semillante,
^Veakened from want of food, slept.
^The next day she had shining eyes and
rbristling hair; she pulled desperately at
^her chain.

Still the old woman gave her nothing
to eat. The beast became furious, bay-
ing with raucous voice. The night
; passed away thus. Then, at the break
of day. Mother Saverini went to the
bouse of a neighbor and begged him to
give her two bundles of straw. She
[ took some old clothes that her husband
\ had formerly worn and filled them full
of the fodder, to simulate a human body.
Having stuck a stick in the ground
before Semillante's niche, she bound the
' manikin to it, giving him the appearance
^ of standing. Then she formed a head
by means of a package of old linen.

The dog, surprised, looked at the
straw man and was silent, although de«
voured with hunger.

Then the old woman went to the
butcher's and boujdit a long piece of
black pudding. She returned home,
lighted a wood fire in her yard, and
cooked this pudding. Semillante, ex-
cited, bounded about and frothed at the
mouth, her eyes fixed upon the meat,
the fumes of which entered her stomach.
Next the woman made a cravat for
the straw man of this smoking sausage.
She wound it many times about his
neck, as if to mahe it penetrate him.

When this was done, she unchained the

With a formidable leap, the beast
reached the manikin's throat, and, her
paws upon his shoulders, began to tear
him to pieces. She fell back, a piece
of her prey in her mouth, then leaped
upon him again, sinking her teeth in the
cords, snatching some particles of
nourishment, fell back again, and re-
boimded enraged. She tore away the
face with great blows of the teeth, tear-
ing into shreds the whole neck.

The old woman, mute and motionless,
looked on, her eyes lighting up. She
rechained the beast, made him fast two
days again, and repeated this strange

For three months, she accustomed the
dog to this kind of struggle, to a re-
past conquered by tooth and claw. She
did not chain her now, but set her upon
the manikin with a gesture.

She taught her to tear him, to devour
him, even without anything eatable hung
around his throat. She would give her
afterward, as a recompense, the pudding
she had cooked for her.

Whenever she perceived the manikin,
Semillante growled and turned her eyes
toward her mistress, who would cry:
''Go!" in a whistling tone, at the same
time raising her finger.

When she thought the right time had
come. Mother Saverini went to con-
fession and to commimion one morning
in ecstatic fervor; then, having clothed
herself in male attire, so that she looked
like a feeble, old man, she went with a
Sardinian fisherman, who took her and
her dog to the other side of the defile.

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She had, in a sack of cloth, a large
piece of pudding. Semillante had fasted
for two days. Every few moments the
old woman made her smell of the pleas-
and food and endeavored to excite her.

They entered into Longosardo. The
Corsican went into a wine-shop. She
presented herself at a baker's and asked
where Nicholas Ravolati lived. He had
taken his old trade, that of a carpenter.
He was working alone at the back of
his shop.

The old woman opened the door and

•TSey, Nicholas!"

He turned around; then, loosing the
iogf she cried out:

"Go ! go ! Devour him ! devour him!*

The animal, excited, threw hersdf
upon him and seized him by the throat.
Tbe man extended his arms, clinched
her, and rolled upon the floor. For
some minutes he twisted himself, beat-
ing the soil with his feet; then he re-
mained motionless, while Semillante dug
at his neck imtil it was in shreds.

Two neighbors, seated before thdr
doors, recalled perfectly having seen an
old man go out of the shop, with a black
dog at his side, which was eating, as
he went along, something brown that
his master gave him.

That evening, the old woman returned
to her house. She slept well that night

On the River

Last summer I rented a cottage on
the banks of the Seine, several miles
from Paris, and I used to go out to it
every evening. After a while, I formed
the acquaintance of one of my neigh-
bors, a man between thirty and forty
years of age, who really was one of the
queerest characters I ever have met.
He was an old boating-man, crazy on the
subject of boats, and was always either
an, or on, or by the water. Surely he
must have been bom in a boat, and prob-
ably he will die in one, some day, while
taking a last outing.

One evening, as we were walking along
the edge of the river, I asked him to
tell me about some of his nautical ex-
periences. Immediately his face lighted
up, and he became eloquent, almost
poetical, for his heart was full of an

all-absorbing, irresistible, devouring pas-
sion — a love for the river.

"Ah!'' said he, "how many recdlec-
tions I have of the river that flows at
our feet! You street-dwellers have no
idea what the river really is. But let a
fisherman pMronounce the word. To him
it means mystery, the unknown, a land
of mirage and i^ntasmagoria, where
odd things that have no real existence
are seen at night and strange noises are
heard; where one trembles withoiA
knowing the reason why, as when pass-
ing through a cemetery, — and indeed
the river is a cemetery without graves.

'Xand, for a fisherman, has boun-
daries, but the river, on moonless nights,
appears to him tmiimited. A sailor
doesn't feel the same way about the
sea. The sea is often crueL but it roars

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and foams, it gives Qs fair 'warning; the
river is silent and treacherous. It flows
stealthily, without a murmur, and the
eternal gentle motion of the water is
more awful to me than the big ocean

"Dreamers believe that the deep hides
immense lands of blue, where the
drowned roll around among the big flsh,
in strange forests or in crystal caves.
The river has only black depths, where
the dead decay in the slime. But it's
beautiful when the sun shines on it, and
the waters splash softly on the banks
covered with whispering reeds.

"Li speaking of the ocean the poet

* *0h ! what tragic tales of the vast, blue
deep, —
The vast blue deep prayerful mothers

The sad waves tell, when at night,
we hear.
Their ceaseless moanings in our

Well, I believe that the stories the
slender reeds tell one another in their
wee, silvery voices are even more ap-
palling than the ghastly tragedies related
by the roaring waves.

''But as you have asked me to relate
some of my recollections, I will tell
you a strange adventure that happened
to me here, about ten years ago.

"Then, as now, I lived in old mother
Lafon's house and a chum of mme,
Louis Bemet, who since has given up
boating, as well as his happy-go-luclqr
ways, to become a State Councilor, was

camping out in the village of C , two

miles away. We used to take dinner
together every day, either at his place
or at mme.

"One evening, as I was returning home
alone, feeling rather tired, and with diffi*
culty rowing the twelve-foot boat that I
always took out at night, I stopped to
rest a little while near that point over
there, formed by reeds, about two hun-
dred yards in front of the railway
bridge. The weather was gorgeous; the
moon shed a silvery light on the shining
river, and the air was soft and still.
The calmness of the surroundings
tempted me, and I thought how pleasant
it would be to fill my pipe here and
smoke. The thought was immediately
executed, and, laying hold of the anchor,
I dropped it overboard.' The boat,
which was following the stream, slid to
the end of the chain and came to a stop;
I settled myself aft on a rug, as com-
fortably as I could. There was not a
sound to be heard nor a movement to
be seen, though sometimes I noticed the
almost imperceptible rippling of the
water on Uie banks, and watched the
highest clumps of reeds, which at times
assumed strange shapes that appeared to

The river was perfectly calm, but I
was affected by the extraordinary still-
ness that enveloped me. The frogs and
toads, the nocturnal musicians of the
swamps, were voiceless. Suddenly, at
my right, a frog croaked. I started; it
stopped, and all was silent. I resolved
to light my pipe for distraction. But,
strange to say, though I was an in-
veterate smoker I failed to enjoy it,
and after a few puffs I grew sick and
stopped smoking. Then I began to hum
an air, but the sound of my voice de«
pressed me.

At last I lay down in the boat and
watched the sky. For a while I re-

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mained quiet, but presently the slight
pitching of the boat disturbed me. I
fdt as if it were swaying to and fro
from one side of the river to the other,
and that an invisible force or being was
drawing it slowly to the bottom and then
raising it to let it drop again. I was
knocked about as if in a storm; I heard
strange noises; I jumped up; the water
was shining and all was still. Then I
knew that my nerves were slightly
shaken, and decided to leave the river.
I pulled on the chain. The boat moved
along, but presently I felt some resist-
ance and pulled harder. The anchor re-
fused to come up; it had caught in some-
thing at the bottom and remained stuck.
I pulled and tugged but to no avail.
With the oars I turned the boat around
and forced her up-stream, in order to
alter the position of the anchor. This
was all in vain, however, for the anchor
did not yield; so in a rage, I began to
shake at the chain, which wouldn't

I sat down discouraged, to ponder
over my mishap. It was impossible to
break the chain or to separate it from
the boat, as it was enormous and was
riveted to a piece of wood as big as my
arm; but as the weather continued fine,
I did not doubt but that some fisher-
man would come along and rescue me.
The accident calmed me so much that I
managed to remain quiet and smoke my
pipe. I had a bottle of rum with me so
I drank two or three glasses of it and
began to laugh at my situation. It was
so warm that it would not have mat-
tered much had I been obliged to spend
All night out of doors.

Suddenly something jarred slightly
sgainst the side of the boat. I started.

and a cold sweat broke over me from
head to foot. The noise was due to a
piece of wood drifting along with the
current, but it proved sufl&cient to dis-
turb my mind, and once more I felt the
same strange nervousness creep over mc.
The anchor remained firm. Exhausted,
I seated myself again.

"Meantime the river was covering it-
self with a white mist that lay close to
the water, so that when I stood up
neither the stream, nor my feet, nor the
boat, were visible to me; I could dis-
tinguish only the ends of the reeds and,
a little further away, the meadow, ashen
in the moonlight, with large black
patches formed by groups of Italian
poplars reaching toward the sky. I was
bmied up to my waist in something that
looked like a blanket of down of a
I)eculiar whiteness; and all kinds of fan-
tastic visions arose before me. I im-
agined that some one was trying to craid
into the boat, which I could no longer
see and that the river hidden under the
thick fog was full of strange creatures
that were swimming all aroimd me. I
felt a horrible depression steal over me,
my temples throbbed, my heart beat
wildly, and, losing all control over my-
self, I was ready to plunge overboard
and swim to safety. But this idea sud-
denly filled me with horror. I imag-
ined myself lost in the dense, mist,
floundering about aimlessly among the
reeds and water-plants, unable to find
the banks of the river or the boat; and
I felt as if I should certainly be drawn
by my feet to the bottom of the dark
waters. As I really should have had to
swim against the current for at least
five hundred yards before reaching a
spot where I could safely land, it was

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nine chances to ten that, being unable to
see in the fog, I should drown, although
I was a ^e swimmer.

"I tried to overcome my dread. I
determined not to be afraid, but there
was something in me besides my will
and that something was faint-hearted.
I asked myself what there was to fear;
my courageous self railed at the other,
the timid one; never before had I so
fully realized the opposition that exists
between the two beings we have in us;
the one willing, the other resisting, and
each one triumphing in turn. But this
foolish and unaccountable fear was
growing worse and worse, and was be-
coming positive terror. I remained
motionless, with open eyes and straining
ears, waiting. For what? I scarcely
knew, but it must have been for some-
thing terrible. I believe that had a fish
suddenly taken it into its head to jump
out of the water, as frequently happens,
I should have fallen in a dead faint.
However, I managed to keep my senses
after a violent effort to control myself.
I took my bottle of brandy and again
raised it to my hps.

"Suddenly I began to shout at the top
of my voice, turning successively
toward the four points of the horizon.
After my throat had become completely
paralyzed with shouting, I listened. A
dog was barking in the distance.

'1 drank some more rum and lay
down in the bottom of the boat. I re-
mained thus at least one hour, perhaps
two, without shutting my eyes, visited
by nightmares. I did not dare to sit up,
though I had an insane desire to do so;
I put it off from second to second, say-
ing: 'Now then, I'll get up/ but I was
afraid to move. At last I raised myself

with infinite care, as if my life depended
on the slightest sound I might make, and
I)eered over the edge of the boat. I
was greeted by the most marvelous, stu-
pendous sight that it is possible to im-

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 118 of 125)