Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

. (page 124 of 125)
Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 124 of 125)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

he felt ill at ease It seemed to him
that an unknown, invisible hand was
squeezing his neck, and he could
scarcely think rationally, having usually
few ideas in his head. For the last three
months, only one thought haunted him,
the thought of marrying again. He suf-
fered from living alone, suffered from it
morally and physically. Accustomed for
ten years past to feeling a woman near
him, habituated to her presence every
moment, to her embrace each succes-
sive day, he had need, an imperious and
perplexing n^ed of incessant contact
with her and the regular touch of her
lips. Since Madame Renardet's death,
he had suffered continually without
knowing why, had suffered from not
feeling her dress brush against his legs
every day, and, above all, from no
longer being able to grow calm and
languid in her arms. He had been
scarcely six months a widower, and he
had already been looking out through
the district for some young girl or some
widow he might marry when his period
of mourning was at an end.

Digitized by




He had a chaste soul, but it was
lodged in a vigorous Herculean body,
and carnal images began to disturb his
sleep and his vigils. He drove them
away; they came back again; and he
murmured from time to time, smiling at

"Here I am, like St. Antony."

Having had this morning several be-
setting visions, the desire suddenly came
into his breast to bathe in the Brindelle
in order to refresh himself and reduce
his feverishness.

He knew, a little further on, of a
large deep spot where the people of the
neighborhood came sometimes to take a
dip in the sunmier. He went there.

Thick willow-trees hid this clear pool
of water where the current rested and
went to sleep for a little while before
starting on its way again. Renardet,
as he appeared, thought he heard a light
sound, a faint plash which was not that
of the stream or the banks. He softly
put aside the leaves and looked. A lit-
tle girl, quite naked in the transparent
water, was beating the waves with both
hands, dancing about in them a little,
and dipping herself with«pretty move-
ments. She was not a child nor was she
yet a woman. She was plump and well
formed, yet had an air of youthful
precocity, as of one who had grown
rapidly, and who was now almost ripe.
He no longer moved, overcome with sur-
prise, with a pang of desire, holding his
breath with a strange, poignant emotion.
He remained there, his heart beating as
If one of his sensual dreams had just
been realized; as if an impure fairy had
tonjured up before him this yoimg crea-
ture, this little rustic Venus bom of the

river foam, who was making his heai)

beat faster.

Suddenly the little girl came out of
the water, and without seeing him came
over to where he stood looking for her
clothes in order to dress herself. While
she was gradually approaching him with
little hesitating steps, through fear of
the sharp pointed stones, he felt him«
self pushed toward her by an irresisti-
ble force, by a bestial transport of pas-^
sion, which stirred up all his carnality,
stupefied his soul, and made him trou-
ble from head to foot.

^e remained standing some seconds
behind the willow-tree which concealed
him from view. Then, losing his reason
entirely, he opened the branches, rushed
on her, and seized her in his arms. She
fell, too scared to offer any resistance,
too much terror-sticken to cry out, and
he possessed her without understanding
what he was doing.

He woke up from his crime, as one
wakes out of a nightmare. Tlie child
burst out weeping.

He said:

**Hold your tongue! Hold your
tongue ! I'll give you money."

But she did not hear him, she went
on sobbing.

He went on:

"Come now, hold your tongue f Do
hold your tongue. Keep quiet."

She still kept shrieking, writhing in
the effort to get away from him. He
suddenly realized that he was ruined,
and he caught her by the neck to stop
her from uttering these heartrending,
dreadful screams. As she continued to
struggle with the desperate strength of a
being who is flying from .death, ho
pressed his enormous hands on that little

Digitized by




tliroat swollen with cries. In a few
seconds he had strangled her, so furi-
ously did he grip her, yet not intending
to kill but only to silence her.

Then he rose up overwhelmed with

She lay before him with her face
bleeding and blackened. He was going
to rush away when there sprang up in
his agitated soul the mysterious and
unde^ed instinct that guides all beings
in the hour of danger.

It was necessary to throw the body
into the water; but he did not; another
impulse drove him toward the clothes,
of which he made a thin parcel. Then,
as he had a piece of twine, he tied it
up and hid it in a deep portion of the
stream, under the trunk of a tree, the
foot of which was immersed in the

Then he went off at a rapid pace,
reached the meadows, took a wide turn
in order to show himself to peasants
who dwelt some distance away on the
opposite side of the district, and came
back to dine at the usual hour, telling
his servants all that was supposed to
have happened during his walk.

He slept, however, that night — slept
with a heavy, brutish sleep, such as the
sleep of persons condemned to death
must occasionally be. He opened his
eyes at the first glimmer of dawn, and
waited, tortured by the fear of having
his crime discovered, for his usual wak-
ing hour.

Then he would have to be present at
all the stages of the inquiry as to the
cause of death. He did so after the
fashion of a somnambulist, in a hallu-
cination which showed him things and
human beings in a sort of dt^m, in a

cloud of intoxication, with that dubious
sense of unreality which pen^exes the
mind at times of the greatest catas-

The only thing that pierced his heart
was La Roque's cry of anguish. At that
moment he felt inclined to cast himself
at the old woman's feet, and to exclaim:

"'Tis L"

But he restrained himself. He went
back, however, during the night, to fish
up the de^d girl's wooden shoes, in
order to carry, them to her mother's

As long as the inquiry lasted, so long
as it was necessary to guide and aid
justice, he was calm, master of himself,
sly and smiling. He discussed quietly
with the magistrates all the suppositions
that passed through their minds, com'
bated their opinions, and demolished
their arguments. He even took a keen
and mournful pleasure in disturbing
their investigations, in confuting their
ideas, in showing the innocence of those
whom they suspected.

But from the day when the investiga-
tion came to a close, he became gradu-
ally nervous, more excitable than he had
been before, although he mastered his
irritability. Sudden noises made him
jump up with fear; he shuddered at the
slightest thing, trembled sometimes
from head to foot when a fly alighted
on his forehead. Then he was seized
with an imperious desire for motion,
which compelled him to keep continu-
ally on foot, and made him remain up
whole nights walking to and fro in his
own room.

It was not that he was goaded by re«
morse. His brutal mind did not lend it-
self to any shade of sentiment or pf

Digitized by




moral terror. A man of energy and
even of violence, bom to make war, to
ravage conquered countries, and to mas-
sacre the vanquished, full of the savage
instincts of the hunter and the fighter,
he scarcely took count of human life.
Though he respected the Church
through policy, he believed neither in
God nor in the devil, e3q)ecting conse-
quently in another life neither chastise-
ment nor recompense for his acts. As
his sole creed, he retained a vague
philosophy composed of- all the ideas of
the encyclopedists of the last century.
He regarded religion as a moral sanction
of the law, both one and the other
having been invented by men to regulate
social relations.

To kill anyone in a duel, or in a bat-
tle, or in a quarrel, or by accident, or
for the sake of revenge, or even through
bravado, would have seemed to him an
amusing and clever thing, and would not
have left more impression on his mind
than a shot fired at a hare; but he had
exj)erienced a profound emotion at the
murder of this child. He had, in the
first place, perpetrated it in the distrac-
tion of an irresistible gust of passion,
in a sort of sensual tempest that had
overpowered his reason. And he had
cherished in his heart, cherished in his
flesh, cherished on his lips, cherished
even to the very tips of his murderous
fingers, a kind of bestial love, as well
as a feeling of horror and grief, to-
ward this little girl he had surprised and
basely killed. Every moment his
thoughts returned to that horrible scene,
and, though he endeavored to drive
away the picture from his mind, though
he put it aside with terror, with dis-
(Sost, he felt it surging through his soul.

moving about in him, waiting incessantly
for the moment to reappear.

Then, in the night, he was afraid,
afraid of the shadows falling around
him. He did not yet know why the
darkness seemed frightful to him; but
he instinctively feared it, felt that it
was peopled with terrors. The bright
daylight did not lend itself to fears.
Thmgs and beings were seen there;
there only^ natural things and beings
which could exhibit themselves in the
light of day could be met. But the
night, the impenetrable night, thicker
than walls, and empty, the infinite night,
so black, so vast, in which one might
brush against frightful things, the ni^
when one feels that m3rsterious terror is
wandering, prowling about, appeared to
him to conceal an unknown danger^
close and m^acing.

What was it?

He knew it ere long. As he sat in
his armchair, rather late, one evening
when he could not sleep, he thought he
saw the curtain of his window move.
He waited, in an uneasy state of mind»
with beating heart. The drapery did not
stir, then, all of a sudden it moved once
more. He did not venture to rise up;
he no longer ventured to breathe, and
yet he was brave. He had often f ought,
and he would have liked to catch thieves
in his house.

Was it true that this curtain did
move? he asked himself, fearing that
his eyes had deceived him. It was,
moreover, such a slight thing, a gentle
flutter of lace, a kind of trembling in
its folds, less than such an undida-
tion as is caused by the wind.

Renardet sat still, with staring eyes,
and outstretched neck. Then be sprang

Digitized by




to his feet abruptly, ashamed of his
fear, took four steps, seized the drapery
with both hands, and pulled it wide
apart. At first, he saw nothing but
<krkened glass, resembling plates of
glittering ink. The night, the vast, im-
penetrable night stretched out before
him as far as the invisible horizon. He
remained standing in front of the illimit-
able shadow, and suddenly perceived a
light, a moving light, which seemed some
distance away.

Then he put his face close to the win-
dowpane, thinking that a person look-
ing for crayfish might be poaching in
the Brindelle, for it was past midnight.
The light rose up at the edge of the
stream, under the trees. As he was not
yet able to see clearly, Renardet placed
Ms hands over his eyes. Suddenly this
light became an illumination, and he
beheld little Louise Roque naked and
bleeding on the moss. He recoiled
frozen with horror, sank into his chair,
and fell backward. He remained there
some minutes, his soul in distress; then
he sat up and began to reflect. He had
had a hallucination — ^that was all: a
hallucination due to the fact that a
marauder of the night was walking with
a lantern in his hand near the water's
edge. What was there astonishing, be-
sides, in the circumstance that the recol-
lection of his crime should sometimes
bring before him the vision of the dead

He rose up, swallowed a glass of wine,
and sat down again. He thought:

'What am I to do if this came back?"

And it did come back; he felt it; he
was sure of it. Already his glance was
drawn toward the window; it called
him; it attracted him. In order to

avoid looking at it, he turned aside his
chair. Then, he took a book and tried
to read; but it seemed to him that he
presently heard something stirring be-
hind him, and he swung round his arm-
chair on one foot.

The curtain still moved — ^unquestion-
ably, it did move this time; he could
no longer have any doubt about it.

He rushed forward and seized it in
his grasp so violently that he knocked
it down with its fastener. Then, he
eagerly pressed his face against the
glass. He saw nothing. All was black
without; and he breathed with the de-
light of a man whose life has just been

Then he went back to his chair, and
sat down again ; but almost immediately
he felt a longing to look out through
the window once more. Since the cur-
tain had fallen, the space in front of
him made a sort of dark patch, fascinat-
ing and terrible, on the obscure land-
scape. In order not to yield to this
dangerous temptation, he took off his
clothes, extinguished the lamp, and lay
down, shutting his eyes.

Lying on his back motionless, his skin
hot and moist, he awaited sleep. Sud-
denly a great gleam of light flashed
across his eyelids. He opened them be-
lieving that his dwelling was on fire.
All was black as before, and he leanec'
on his elbow in order to try to dis
tinguish his window, which had still foi
him an unconquerable attraction. By
dint of straining his eyes, he could per-
ceive some stars, and he arose, groped
his way across the room, discovered the
panes with his outstretched hands, and
placed his forehead close to them. There
below, under the trees, the body of tto

Digitized by LjOOQ IC



little girl glittered like phosphorus,
lighting up the surrounding darkness.

Renardet uttered a cry and rushed to-
ward his bed, where he lay till morning,
his head hidden under the pillow.

From that moment, his life became
intolerable. He passed his days in ap-
prehension of each succeeding night;
and each night the vision came back
again. As soon as he had locked him-
self up in his room, he strove to strug-
gle; but in vain. An irresistible force
lifted him up and pushed him against
the glass, as if to call the phantom, and
ere long he saw it l3dng in the spot
where the crime was committed, lying
with arms and legs outspread, just in the
way the body had been foimd.

Then the dead girl rose up and came
toward him with little steps just as the
child had done when she came out of
the river. She advanced quietly, pass-
ing straight across the grass, and over
the border of withered flowers. Then
she rose up into the air toward Ren-
ardet's window. She came toward him,
as she had come on the day of the
crime. And the man recoiled before
the apparition — ^he retreated to his bed,
and sank down upon it, knowing well
that the little one had entered the room,
and that she now was standing behind
the curtain, which presently moved.
And until daybreak, he kept staring at
this curtain, with a fixed glance, ever
i^aiting to see his victim depart.

But she did not show herself any
more; she remained there behind the
curtain which quivered tremulously now
and then.

And Renardet, his Angers clinging to
Ithe bedclothes, squeezed them as he had

squeezed the throat of littte LodM

He heard the clock striking the
hours; and in the stillness the pendulum
kept time with the loud beating of his
heart. And he suffered, the wretched
man, more than any man had ever suf*
f ered before.

Then, as soon as a white streak of
light on the ceiling announced the ap-
proaching day, he felt himself free,
alone at last, alone in his room ; and thai
he went to sleep. He slept some hours
— a restless, feverish sleep in which he
retraced in dreams the horrible vision
of the night just past.

When, later on, he went down to
breakfast, he felt exhausted as if after
prodigious fatigue; and he scarcely ate
anything, haunted as he was by the fear
of what he had seen the night before

He knew, however, that it was not
an apparition — that the dead do not
come back, and that his sick soul, pos-
sessed by one thought alone, by an in-
delible remembrance, was the only cause
of his pimishment, was the Only evoker
of that awful image, brought back by
it to life, called up by it and raised by
it before his eyes, in which the in-
effaceable resemblance remained im-
printed. But he knew, too, that he
could not cure it, that he could never
escape from the savage persecution of
his memory; and he resolved to die,
rather than endure these tortures any

Then, he pondered how he would kill
himself. He wished for some sim^de
and natural death which would preclude
the idea of suicide. For he dung to
his reputation, to the name bequeathed
to him by his ancestors; and if there

Digitized by VjOOQ IC



was any suspicion as to the cause of his
death, people's thoughts might be per-
haps directed toward the mysterious
crime, toward the murderer who could
not be found, and they would not hesi-
tate to accuse him.

A strange idea came into his head,
that of letting himself be crushed by the
tree at the foot of which he had assas-
sinated little Louise Roque. So he de-
termined to have the wood cut down
and to simulate an accident. But the
beech-tree refused to smash his ribs.

Returning to his house, a prey to ut-
ter despair, he had snatched up his re-
volver, and then he did not dare to
fire it.

The dinner bell summoned him. He
could eat nothing, and went upstairs
again. But he did not know what he
was going to do. Now that he had es-
caped the first time, he felt himself a
coward. Presently, he would be ready,
fortified, decided, master of his cour-
age and of his resolution; just now, he
was weak, and feared death as much as
he did the dead girl.

He faltered out to himself:

"I will not venture it again — ^I will
not venture it."

Then he glanced with terror, first at
the revolver on the table, and next at
the curtain which hid his window. It
seemed to him, moreover, that some-
thing horrible would occur as soon as
his life was ended. Something? What?
A meeting with her, perhaps ! She was
watching for him; she was waiting for
him; she was calling him; and her ob-
ject was to seize him in her turn, to ex-
hibit herself to him every night so that
she might draw him toward the doom

that would avenge her, and lead him to

He began to cry like a child, repeat-

"I will not venture it again — ^I will
not venture it,"

Then, he fell on his knees, and mur-
mured: "My God! my God!" without
believing, nevertheless, in God. He no
longer dared, in fact, to look out
through his window where he knew the
apparition was visible, nor at the table
where his revolver gleamed.

When he had risen up, he said:

"This cannot last; there must be an
end of it."

The sound of his voice in the silent
room made a shiver of fear pass through
his limbs, but, as he could not come to
a decision, as he felt certain that his
finger would always refuse to pull the
trigger of his revolver, he turned round
to hide his head under the bedclothes,
and to plunge into reflection.

He would have to find some way in
which he could force himself to die, to
invent some device against himself,
which would not permit of any hesita-
tion on his part, any delay, any possible
regrets. He began to envy condemned
criminals who are led to the scaffold
surrounded by soldiers. Oh! if he could
only beg of some one to shoot him; if
he could, confessing the state of his
soul, confessing his crime to a sure
friend who would never dividge it, ob-
tain from him death.

But from whom could he ask this ter-
rible service? From whom? He cast
about for one among his friends whom
he knew intimately. The doctor? No,
he would talk about it afterward, most
certainly. And suddenly a fantastic

Digitized by




Idea entered his mind. He would write
to the examining magistrate, who was
en terms of close friendship with him
and would denounce himself as the
perpetrator of the crime. He would in
this letter confess everything, reveal-
ing how his soul had been tortured,
how he had resolved to die, how he had
hesitated about carrying out his resolu-
tion, and what means he had employed
to strengthen his failing courage. And
in the name of their old friendship
he would implore of the other to destroy
the letter as soon as he had ascertained
that the culprit had inflicted justice on
himself. Renardet could rely on this
magistrate; he knew him to be sure,
discreet, incapable of even an idle word.
He was one of those men who have an
inflexible conscience, governed, directed,
regulated by their reason alone.

Scarcely had he formed this project
when a strange feeling of joy took pos-
session of his heart. He was calm now.
He would write his letter slowly, then
at daybreak he would deposit it in the
box nailed to the wall in his office, then
he would ascend his tower to watch
for the postman's arrival, and when the
man in the blue blouse came in sight,
he would cast himself headlong on to
the rocks on which the foundations
rested. First he would take care to be
seen by the workmen who were cutting
down his wood. He would then climb
to the parapet some distance up which
bore the flagstaff displayed on fite days.
He woidd smash this pole with a shake
and precipitate it along with him.

Who would suspect that it was not
an accident? And he would be dashed
to pieces, having regard to his weight
^d the height of the tower.

Presently he got out of bed, went
over to the table, and began to write.
He omitted nothing, not a single detail
of the crime, not a single detail of the
torments of his heart, and he ended by
annoimcing that he had passed sentenct
on himself — ^that he was going to ex-
ecute the criminal — and begged of his
friend, his old friend, to be careful that
there should never be any stain on his

When he had flnished his letter, he
saw that the day had dawned.

He closed it, sealed it, and wrote the
address; then he descended with light
steps, hurried toward the little white
box fastened to the wall in the comer
of the farmhouse, and when he had
thrown into it the fatal paper which
made his hand tremble, he came back
quickly, shot the bolts of the great
door, and climbed up to his tower to
wait for the passing of the postman,
who would convey his death sentence.

He felt self-possessed, now. Iiber«
ated! Saved!

A cold dry wind, an icy wind, passed
across his face. He inhaled it eagerly,
with open mouth, drinking in its chiH
ing kiss. Hie sky was red, with a bum*
ing red, the red of winter, and all the
plain whitened with frost glistened un-
der the first rays of the sun, as if it had
been powdered with bruised glass.

Renardet, standing up, with his head
bare, gazed at the vast tiract of country
before him, the meadow to the left, and
to the right the village whose chinmeys
were beginning to smoke with the prep-
arations for the morning meal. At his
feet he saw the Brindelle flowing toward
the rocks, where he would soon be
crushed to death. He felt himself re-

Digitized by




bom on that beautiful frosty morning,
full of strength, full of life. The light
bathed him and penetrated him like a
new-born hope. A thousand recollec-
tions assailed him, recollections of sim-
ilar mornings, of rapid walks, the hard
earth which rang imder his footsteps, of
happy chases on the edges of pools
where wild ducks sleep. At the good
things that he loved, the good things of
existence rushed into memory, pene-
trated hun with fresh desires, awakened
all the vigorous appetites of his active,
powerful body.

And he was about to die? Why?
He was going to kill himself stupidly,
because he was afraid of a shadow —
afraid of nothing. He was still rich
and in the prime of life! What folly I
All he wanted was distraction, absence,
a voyage in order to forget.

This night even he had not seen the
little girl because his mind was pre-
occupied, and so had wandered toward
some other subject. Perhaps he would
not see her any more? And even if she
still haunted him in his house, certainly

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 124 of 125)