Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

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prised them, and he made up his mind
to go the next morning and obtain the
magistrate's assistance to gain possession
of George, but almost as soon as he had
formed that resolution, he felt assured
of the contrary. From the moment that
Limousin had been Henriette's lover,
her adored lover, she would certainly
have given herself up to him, from the
very first, with that ardor of self-aban-
donment which belongs to women who
love. The cold reserve which she had
always shown in her intimate relations
with him. Parent, was surely also an
obstacle to her bearing him a son.

In that case he would be claiming, he
would take with him, constantly keep
and look after, the child of another man.
He would not be able to look at him,
kiss him, hear him say "Papa" without
being struck and tortured by the
thought, "He is not my child." He was
going to condemn himself to that tor-
ture, and that wretched life every mo-

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ment! No, it would be better to live
alone, to grow old alone, and to die

And every day and every night, tbese
dreadful doubts and sutferings, which
nothing could calm or end, would recom-
mence. Especially did he dread the dark-
ness of the evening, the melancholy feel-
ing of the twilight. A flood of sorrow
would invade his heart, a torrent of de-
spair, which threatened to overwhelm
him and drive him mad. He was as
frightened of his own thoughts as men
are of criminals, and he fled before them
as one does from wild beasts. Above
all things he feared his empty, dark,
horrible dwelling, and the deserted
streets, in which, here and there, a gas
lamp flickers, where the isolated foot
passenger whom one hears in the distance
seems to be a night-prowler, and makes
one walk faster or slower, according to
whether he is coming toward you or
following you.

And in spite of himself, and by in-
stinct, Parent went in the direction of
the broad, well-lighted, populous streets.
The light and the crowd attracted him,
occupied him mind and distracted his
thoughts, and when he was tired walk-
ing aimlessly about among the moving
crowd, when he saw the foot passengers
becoming more scarce, and the pave-
ments less crowded, the fear of solitude
and silence drove him into some large
caf^ full of drinkers and of light. He
went there as a fly comes to a candle;
he used to sit down at one of the little
round tables and ask for a bocky* which
he used to drink slowly, feeling uneasy
every time that a customer got up to
go. He would have liked to take him
by the arm, hold him back and bee him

to stay a little longer, so much did he
dread the time when the waiter would
come up to him and say angrily: "Come,
Monsieur, it is closing time!'

Every evening he would stop till the
very last. He saw them carry in the
tables, turn out the gas jets one by one,
except his and that at the counter. He
looked unhappily at the cashier counting
the money and locking it up in the
drawer, and then he went, bemg usually
pushed out by the waiters, who mur-
mured: "Another one who has too
much! One would think he had no
place to sleep in."

And each night as soon as he was
alone in the dark street, he began to
think of George again, and to rack his
brains in trying to discover whether or
not he was this child's father.

He thus got into the habit of going to
the beer houses, where the continual
elbowing of the drinkers brings you in
contact with a familiar and silent public,
where the clouds of tobacco smoke lull
disquietude, while the heavy beer dulls
the mind and calms the heart. He al-
most lived there. He was scarcely up,
before he went there to find people to
occupy his looks and his thoughts, and
soon, as he became too listless to move,
he took his meals there. About twelve
o'clock he used to rap on the marble
table, and the waiter would quickly
bring a plate, a glass, a table napkin,
and his lunch, when he had ordered it.
When he had finished, he would slowly
drink his cup of black coffee, with his
eyes fixed on the decanter of brandy,
which would soon procure him an hour
or two of forgetfulness. First of all he

*Glass of Bavarian beer.

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would dip his lips into the cognac, as if
to get the flavor of it with the tip of
his tongue. Then he would throw his
head back and pour it into his mouth,
drop by drop, and turn the strong liquor
over on his palate, his gums, and the
mucous membrane of his cheeks; then
he would swallow it slowly, to feel it
going down his throat, and into his

Thus, after every meal, he, during
more than an hour, sipped three or four
small glasses of brandy which stupefied
him by degrees; then, having drunk it,
he used to raise himself up on the seat
covered with red velvet, pull his trou-
sers up, and his waistcoat down, so as to
cover the linen which appeared between
the two, draw down his shirt cuffs and
take up the newspapers again, which he
had already read in the morning, and
read them all through again, from begin-
ning to end. Between four and five
o'clock he would go for a walk on the
boulevards, to get a little fresh air, as he
used to say, and then come back to the
seat which had been reserved for him,
and ask for his absinthe. He used to
talk to the regular customers, whose ac-
quaintance he had made. They dis-
cussed the news of the day, and political
events, and that carried him on till din-
ner-time, and he spent the evening as
he had the afternoon, until it was time
to close.

It was a terrible moment for him,
■when he was obliged to go out into the
dark, and into the empty room full of
dreadful recollections, of horrible
thoughts, and of mental agony. He no
longer saw any of his old friends, none
of his relations, nobody who might re-
mind him of his past life. But as his

apartments were a hell to him, he took a
room in a large hotel, a good room on
the ground floor, so as tg see the
passers-by. He was no longer alone in
that great building; he felt people
swarming round him, he heard voices in
the adjoining rooms, and when his for-
mer sufferings revived at the sight of his
bed which was turned back, and of his
soUtary fireplace, he went out into the
wide passages and walked up and down
them like a sentinel, before all the
closed doors, and looked sadly at the
shoes standing in couples outside each,
women's little boots by the side of men's
thick ones, and he thought that no doubt
all these people were happy, and were
sleeping sweetly side by side or in each
other's arms, in their warm beds.

Five years passed thus ; five miserable
years with no other events except from
tune to time a passing love affair. But
one day when he was taking his usual
walk between the Madeleine and the Rue
Drouot, he suddenly saw a lady, whose
bearing struck him. A tall gentleman
and a child were with her, and all three
were walking in front of him. He asked
himself where he had seen them before,
when suddenly he recognized a move-
ment of her hand; it was his wife, his
wife with Limousin and his child, his
little George.

His heart beat as if it would suffocate
him, but he did not stop, for he wished
to see them and he followed them.
They looked like a family of the better
middle class. Henriette was leaning on
Paul's arm and speaking to him in a low
voice and looking at him sideways oc*
casionally. Parent saw her side face,
and recognized its graceful outlines, the
movements of her lips, her smile, and

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her caressing looks, but the child chiefly
took up his attention. How tall and
strong he, was! Parent could not see
his face, but only his long, fair curls.
That tall boy with bare legs, who was
walking by his mother's side like a little
man, was George.

He saw them suddenly all three, as
they stopped in front of a shop. Limou-
sin had grown very gray, had aged, and
was thinner; his wife, on the contrary,
was as young looking as ever, and had
grown stouter; George he would not
have recognized, he was so different to
what he had been formerly.

They went on again, and Parent fol-
lowed them, then walked on quickly,
passed them and then turned round, so
as to meet them face to face. As he
passed the child he felt a mad longing
to take him into his arms and run off
with him, and he knocked against him,
accidentally as it were. The boy turned
round and looked at the clumsy man
angrily, and Parent went off hastily,
struck and hurt by the look. He slunk
off like a thief, seized by a horrible fear
lest he should have been seen and recog-
nized by his wife and her lover, and
he went to his cafS without stopping,
fell breathless into his chair, and that
evening he drank three absinthes.

For four months he felt the pain of
that meeting in his heart. Every night
he saw the three again, happy and tran-
quil, father, mother, and child walking
on the boulevard before going in to
dinner, and that new vision effaced the
old one. It was another matter, another
hallucination, now, and also a fresh
pain. Little George, his little George,
the child he had so much loved and so
often kissed f ormerly, disappeared in the

far distance and he saw a new one, like
a brother of the first, a little boy v/iiL
bare legs, who did not know him! He
suffered terribly at that thought. The
child's love was dead; there was no
bond between them; the child would not
have held out his arms when he saw
him. He had even looked at him

Then by degrees he grew calmer, his
mental torture diminished, the image
that had appeared to his eyes and
which haunted his nights became more
indistinct and less frequent. He began
once more to live like everybody else,
like all those idle people who drink beer
off marble-topped tables and wear out
the seats of their trousers on the thread-
bare velvet of the couches.

He grew old amid the smoke from
pipes, lost his hair under the gas lights,
looked upon his weekly bath, on his
fortnightly visit to the barber's to have
his hair cut, and on the purchase of a
new coat or hat, as an event. When he
got to his cafS after buying a new hat
he used to look at himself in the glass
for a long time before sitting down, and
would take it off and put it on again
several times following, and at last ask
his friend, the lady at the bar, who
watched him with interest, whether she
thought it suited him.

Two or three times a year he went to
the theater, and in the summer he
sometimes spent his evenings at one of
the open air concerts in the Champs-
Elys^es. He brought back from them
some airs which ran in his head for
several weeks, and which he even hum-
med, beating time with his foot, while
he was drinking his beer, and so the
years followed each other, slow, mono-

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tonous, and long, because they were
quite uneventful.

He did not feel them glide past him.
He went on toward death without fear
or agitation, sitting at a table in a cafi,
and only the great glass against which
he rested his head, which was every day
becoming balder, reflected the ravages
of time, which flies and devours men,
poor men.

He only very rarely now thought of
the terrible drama which had wrecked
his life, for twenty years had passed
since that terrible evening, but the life
he had led since then had worn him out,
and the landlord of his cafi would often
say to him: "You ought to pull your-
self together a little. Monsieur Parent;
you should get some fresh air and go
into the country! I assure you that you
have changed very much within the last
few months." ^d when his customer
had gone out, he used to say to the bar-
maid: "That poor Monsieur Parent is
booked for another world; it is no good
never to go out of Paris. Advise him to
go out of town for a day occasionally,
he has confldence in you. It is nice
weather, and will do him good." And
she, full of pity and good-will for such
a regular customer, said to Parent every
day: "Come, Monsieur, make up your
mind to get a little fresh air, it is so
charming in the country when the
weather is fine. Oh! if I could, I would
spend my life there."

And she told him her dreams, the
simple and poetical dreams of all the
poor girls who are shut up from one
year's end to the other in a shop and
who see the noisy life of the streets go
by while they think of the calm and
pleasant life in the country, under the

bright sun shining on the meadows, of
deep woods and clear rivers, of cows
lying in the grass and of all the differ-
ent flowers, blue, red, yellow, purple,
lilac, pink, and white, which are so
pretty, so fresh, so sweet, all the wild
flowers which one picks as one walks.

She liked to speak to him frequently
of her continual, unrealized and unreal-
izable longing, and he, an old man with-
out hope, was fond of listening to her,
and used to go and sit near the counter
to talk to Mademoiselle Zo6 and to dis-
cuss the country with her. Then, by
degrees he was seized by a vague desire
to go just once and see whether it was
really so pleasant there, as she said,
outside the walls of the great city, and
so one morning he said to her: "Do
you know where one can get a good
lunch in the neighborhood of Paris?"

"Go to the Terrace' at Saint-Ger-

He had been there formerly, just after
he had got engaged, and so he made up
his mind to go there again, and he chose
a Sunday, without any special reason,
but merely because people generally do
go out on Sundays, even when they have
nothing to do all the week. So one Sun-
day morning he went to Saint-Germain.
It was at the beginning of July, on a
very bright and hot day. Sitting by the
door of the railway-carriage, he watched
the trees and the strangely built little
houses in the outskirts of Paris fly past.
He felt low-spirited, and vexed at hav-
ing yielded to that new longing, and at
having broken through his usual habits.
The view, which was continually chang-
ing, and always the same, wearied him.
He was thirsty; he would have liked to
get out at every station and sit down

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in the cafe wMch he saw outside and
drink a bock or two, and then take the
first train back to Paris. And then, the
journey seemed very long to him. He
used to remain sitting for whole days,
as long as he had the same motionless
objects before his eyes, but he found
it very trying and fatiguing to remain
sitting while he was being whirled along,
^nd to see the whole country fly by,
while he himself was motionless.

However, he found the Seine interest-
ing, every time he crossed it. Under the
bridge at Chatou he saw some skiffs go-
ing at great pace under the vigorous
strokes of the bare-armed oarsmen, and
he thought: "There are some fellows
"who are certainly enjo3dng themselves 1"
And then the train entered the tunnel
just before you get to the station at
Saint-Germain, and soon stopped at the
arrival . platform, where Parent got out,
and walked slowly, for he already felt
tired, toward the Terrace, with his hands
behind his back, and when he got to the
Iron balustrade, he stopped to look at
the distant horizon.

The vast plain spread out before him
like the sea, green, and studded with
large villages, almost as populous as
towns. White ^oads crossed it, and it
was well wooded in places; the ponds at
Vesinet glistened like plates of silver,
and the distant ridges of Sannois and
Argenteuil were covered with light, blu-
ish mist, so that they could scarcely be
distinguished. The sun bathed the
whole landscape in its full warm light,
and the Seine, which twined like an end-
less serpent through the plain, flowed
round the villages and along the slopes.
Parent inhaled the warm breeze which
seemed to make his heart young again,

to enliven his spirits, and to vivify his
blood, and said to himself: "It is very
nice here."

Then he went on a few steps, and
stopped again to look about him, and
the utter misery of his existence seemed
to be brought out into full relief by the
intense light which inundated the coun-
try. He saw his twenty years of cafe-
life, dull, monotonous, heart-breaking.
He might have traveled like others did,
have gone among foreigners, to unknown
countries beyond the sea, have interested
himself somewhat in everything which
other men are passionately devoted to,
in arts and sciences, he might have en-
joyed life in a thousand forms, that
mysterious life which i? either charm-
ing or painful, constantly changing, al-
ways inexplicable and strange.

Now, however, it was too late. He
would go on drinking hock after bock
until he died, without any family, with-
out friends, without hope, without any
curiosity about an5^hing, and he was
seized with a feeling of misery and a
wish to run away, to hide himself in
Paris, in his cafi and his bef uddlement !
All the thoughts, all the dreams, all the
desires which are dormant in the sloth
of the stagnating hearts, had reawak-
ened, brought to life by those rays of
sunlight on the plain.

He felt that if he were to remain there
any longer, he should lose his head, and
so he made haste to get to the Pavilion
Henri IV. for lunch, to try and forget
his troubles imder the influence of wine
and alcohol, and at any rate to have
some one to speak to.

He took a small table in one of the
arbors, from which one can see all (he
surroimding coimtry, ordered his limcb

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and asked to be served at once. Then
some more people arrived and sat down
at tables near him and he felt more
comfortable; he was no longer alone.
Three persons were lunching near him,
and he looked at them two or three
times without seeing them clearly, as
one looks at total strangers. But sud-
denly a woman's voice sent a shiver
through him which seemed to penetrate
to his very marrow. "George," it had
said, "will you carve the chicken?" An-
other voice replied: "Yes, mamma."

Parent looked up, and he understood,
he guessed immediately who those peo-
ple were ! He should certainly not have
known them again. His wife had grown
quite white ana very stout, an old, seri-
ous, respectable lady, and she held her
head forward as she ate, for fear of
spotting her dress, although she had a
table napkin tucked under her chin.
George had become a man; he had a
slight beard, that unequal and almost
colorless beard which fringes the cheeks
of youths. He wore a high hat, a white
waistcoat, and a monocle — ^because it
looked dandified, no doubt. Parent
looked at him in astonishment! Was
that George, his son? No, he did not
know that young man; there could be
nothing in common between them. Lim-
ousin had his back to him, and was eat-
ing, with his shoulders rather bent.

Well, all three of them seemed happy
and satisfied; they came and dined in
the country, at well-known restaurants.
They had had a calm and pleasant exis-
tence, a family existence in a warm and
comfortable house, filled with all those
trifles which make life agreeable, with
affection, with all those tender words
which people exchange continually when

they love each other. They had lived
thus, thanks to him, Parent, on his
money, after having deceived him,
robbed him, ruined him ! They had con-
demned him, the innocent, the simple-
minded, the jovial man to all the miser-
ies of solitude, to that abominable life
which he had led between the pavement
and the counter, to every moral torture
and every physical misery! They had
made him a useless being, who was lost
and wretched among other people, a
poor old man without any pleasures, or
anything to look forward to, and who
hoped for nothing from anyone. For
him, the world was empty, because he
loved nothing in the world. He might
go among other nations or go about the
streets, go into all the houses in Paris,
open every room, but he would not find
the beloved face, the face of wife or
child, that he was in search of, which
smiles when it sees you, behind any
door. And that idea worked upon him
more than any other, the idea of a door
which one opens, to see and to embrace
somebody behind it.

And that was the fault of those three
wretches! the fault of that worthless
woman, of that infamous friend, and of
that tall, light-haired lad who put on
insolent airs. Now, he felt as angry
with the child as he did with the other
two! Was he not Limousin's son?
Would Limousin have kept him and
loved him, otherwise? Would not
Limousin very quickly have got rid of
the mother and of the child if he had
not felt sure that it was his, certainly
his? Does anybody bring up other peo-
ple's children? And now they were
there, quite close to him, those three
who had made him suffer so much.

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Parent looked at them, irritated and
excited at the recollection of all his
sufferings and of his despair, and was
especially exasperated at their placid and
satisfied looks. He felt inclined to kill
them, to throw his siphon of Seltzer
water at them, to split open Limousin's
head, which he every moment bent over
his plate and raised up again immedi-
ately. And they continued to live like
that, without cares or anxiety of any
kind. No! no! That was really too
much, after all ! He would avenge him-
self, he would have his revenge now, on
the spot, as he had them under his hand.
But how? He tried to think of some
means, he pictured such dreadful things
as one reads of in the newspapers occa-
sionally, but could not hit on an5^ng
practical. And he went on drinking to
excite himself, to give himself courage
not to allow such an occasion to escape
him, as he should certainly not meet
with it again.

Suddenly an idea struck him, a ter-
rible idea, and he left off drinking to
mature it. A smile rose to his lips, and
he murmured : "I have got them, I have
got them. We will see ; we will see.**

A waiter asked him: "What would
you like now. Monsieur?"

"Nothing. Coffee and cognac. The
best." And he looked at them, as he
sipped his brandy. There were too
many people in the restaurant for what
he wanted to do, so he would wait and
follow them, for they would be sure to
walk on the terrace or in the forest.
When they had got a little distance off,
he would join them, and then he would
have his revenge, yes, he would have his
revenge ! It was certainly not too soon,
after twenty-three years of suffering.

Ah! They little guessed what was to
happen to them.

They finished their luncheon slowly,
and they talked in perfect security.
Parent could not hear what they were
saying, but he saw their calm move-
ments, and his wife's face, especially, ex-
asperated him. She had assumed a
haughty air, the air of a stout, devout
woman, of an irreproachably devout
woman, sheathed in principles, iron-clad
in \drtue. Then they paid the bill and
got up, and then he saw Limousin. He
might have been taken for a retired
diplomatist, for he looked a man of
great importance with his soft, white
whiskers, the tips of which fell on to the
facings of his coat.

They went out. George was smoking
a cigar and had his hat on one side,
and Parent followed them. First of all
they went up and down the terrace, and
calmly admired the landscape, like peo-
ple who have well satisfied their hunger,
and then they went into the forest, and
Parent rubbed his hands and followed
them at a distance, hiding himself, so as
not to excite their suspicion too soon.
They walked slowly, enjoying the fresh
green foliage, and the warm air. Hen-
riette was holding Limousin's arm and
walked upright at his side, like a wife
who is contented, and proud of herself.
George was cutting off the leaves with
his stick, and occasionally jumped over
the ditches by the roadside, like a fiery
young horse ready to gallop off through
the trees.

Parent came up to them by degrees,
panting rather from excitement and
fatigue, for he never walked now. He
soon came up to them, but he was seized
by fear, an inexplicable fear, and he

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passed them, so as to turn round and
meet them face to face. He walked on,
bis heart beating, for he knew that they
were just behind him now, and he said
to himself: "Come, now is the time.
Courage! courage! Now is the mo-

He turned around. They were all
three sitting on the grass, at the foot of
a huge tree, and were still talking. He

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 14 of 125)