Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

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at the same time gave her a letter from
her husband. He told her that he was
going to undertake a longish journey,
and in a postscript he added that his
lawyer would provide her with such
money as she might require for her ex-


It was at the opera, between two of
the acts in "Robert the Devil." In the
stalls, the men were standing up, with
their hats on, their waistcoats cut very
low so as to show a large amount of
white shirt front, in which the gold and
precious stones of their studs glistened.
They were looking at the boxes crowded
with ladies in low dresses, covered with
diamonds and pearls, women who
seemed to expand like flowers in that
illuminated hothouse, where the beauty
of their faces and the whiteness of their
shoulders seemed to bloom for inspec-
tion, in the midst of the music and of
human voices.

Two friends, with their backs to the
orchestra, were scanning those parterres
of elegance, that exhibition of real or
false charms, of jewels, of luxury, and
of pretension which showed itself off
all round the Grand Theater. One of
them, Roger de Salnis, said to his com-
panion, Bernard Grandin: "Just look
how beautiful Countess de Mascaret
stiU is."

Then the elder, in turn, looked
through his opera glasses at a tall lady
in a box opposite, who appeared to be
still very young, and whose striking
beauty seemed to appeal to men's eyes
in every comer of the house. Her pale
complexion, of an ivory tint, gave her
the appearance of (t statue^ while a

small, diamond coronet glistened on her
black hair like a cluster of stars.

When he had looked at her for some
time, Bernard Grandin replied with a
jocular accent of sincere conviction:
"You may well call her beautiful!"

"How old do you think she is?"

"Wait a moment. I can tell you ex-
actly, for I have known her since she was
a child, and I saw her make her ddbut
into society when she was quite a girl.
She is — she is — ^thirty — ^thirty-six,"


"I am sure of it."

"She looks twenty-five."

"She has had seven children."

"It is incredible."

"And what is more, they are all seven
alive, as she is a very good mother. I
go to the house, which is a very quiet
and pleasant one, occasionally, and she
presents the phenomenon of the family
in the midst of the world."

"How very strange! And have there
never been any reports about her?"


"But what about her husband? He is
pecuHar, is he not?"

**Yes and no. Very likely there has
been a little drama between them, one
of those little domestic dramas which
one suspects, which one never finds out
exactly, but which one guesses pretty

"What is it?"

"I do not know anything about it.
Mascaret leads a very fast life now,
after having been a model husband.
As long as he remained a good spouse,
he had a shocking temper and was
crabbed and easily took offense, but
since he has been leading his present,
rackety life, he has become quite in-

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different; but one would guess tliat he
has some trouble, a worm gnawing some-
where, for he has aged very much."

Thereupon the two friends talked
philosophically for some minutes about
the secret, unknowable troubles, which
differences of character or perhaps phys-
ical antipathies, which were not per-
ceived at first, give rise to in families.
Then Roger de Salnis, who was still
looking at Madame de Mascaret through
his opera-glasses, said.

"It is almost incredible that thBt
woman has had seven children!"

"Yes, in eleven years; after which,
when she was thirty, she put a stop to
her period of production in order to
enter into the brilliant period of en-
tertaining, which does not seem near
coming to an end."

"Poor women!"

"Why do you pity them?"

**Why? Ah! my dear fellow, just
consider! Eleven years of maternity,
for such a woman! What a hell! All
her youth, all her beauty, every hope of
success, every poetical ideal of a bright
life, sacrificed to that abominable Jaw
of reproduction which turns the normal
woman into a mere machine for ma-

*What would you have? It is only

**Yes, but I say that Nature is our
enemy, that we must always fight
against Nature, for she is continually
bringing us back to an animal state.
You may be sure that God has not
put an3rthing on this earth that is clean,
pretty, elegant, or accessory to our
ideal, but the human brain has done it.
It is we who have introduced a little
grace, beauty, unknown charm, and

mystery into creation by singing about
it, interpreting it, by admiring it as
poets, idealizing it as artists, and by
explaining it as learned men who make
mistakes, who find ingenious reasons,
some grace and beauty, some imknown
charm and mystery in the various
phenomena of nature.

"God only created coarse beings, full
of the germs of disease, and who, after
a few years of bestial enjoyment, grow
old and infirm, with all the ugliness
and all the want of power of human
decreptitude. He only seems to have
made them in order that they may re-
produce their species in a repulsive man-
ner, and then die like ephemeral in-
sects. I said, reproduce their species in
a repulsive manner, and I adhere to
that expression. What is there as a
matter of fact, more ignoble and more
repugnant than that ridiculous act of
tl^ reproduction of living beings, against
which all delicate minds always have re-
volted, and always will revolt? Since
all the organs which have been invented
by this economical and malicious
Creator serve two purposes, why did he
not choose those that were unsullied, in
order to intrust them with that sacred
mission, which is the noblest and the
most exalted of all human functions?
The mouth which nourishes the body by
means of material food, also diffuses
abroad speech and thought. Our flesh
revives itself by means of itself, and at
the same time, ideas are communicated
by it. The sense of smell, which gives
the vital air to the lungs, imparts all
the perfumes of the world to the brain:
the smell of flowers, of woods, of trees,
of the sea. The ear, which enables us
to communicate with our fellowmeoi

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has also allowed us to invent music, to
.create dreams, happiness, the infinite,
and even physical pleasure, by means of
sounds !

"But one might say that the Creator
wished to prohibit man from ever en-
nobling and idealizing his commerce
with women. Nevertheless, man has
found love, which is not a bad reply to
that sly Deity, and he has ornamented
it so much with literary poetry, that
woman often forgets the contact she is
obliged to submit to. Those among us
who are powerless to deceive themselves
have invented vice and refined de-
bauchery, which is another way of laugh-
ing at God, and of pa3dng homage, im-
modest homage, to beauty.

"But the normal man makes chil-
dren; just a beast that is coupled with
another by law.

"Look at that woman! Is it not
abominable to think that such a jewel,
such a pearl, bom to be beautiful, ad-
mired, feted, and adored, has spent
eleven years of her life in providing
heurs for the Count de Mascaret?"

Bernard Grandin replied with a laugh:
"There is a great deal of truth in all
that, but very few people would under-
stand you."

Sahiis got more and more animated.
"Do you know how I picture God my-
self?" he said. "As an enormous, crea-
tive organ unknown to us, who scat-
ters millions of worlds into space, just
as one single fish would deposit its
spawn in the sea. He creates, because
it is His function as God to do so, but
He does not know what He is doing,
and is stupidly prolific in His work, and
IS ignorant of the combinations of all
kinds which are produced by His scat-

tered germs. Human thought is a lucky
little local, passing accident, which was
totally unforeseen, and is condemned to
disappear with this earth, and to recom-
mence perhaps here or elsewhere, the
same or different, with fresh combina-
tions of eternally new beginnings. We
owe' it to this slight accident which has
happened to His intellect, that we are
very uncomfortable in this world which
was not made for us, which had not
been prepared to receive us, to lodge
and feed us, or to satisfy reflecting be-
ings, and we owe it to Him also that we
have to struggle without ceasing against
what are still called the designs of
Providence, when we are really refined
and civilized beings."

Grandin, who was listening to him
attentively, as he had long known the
surprising outbursts of his fancy, asked
him: "Then you believe that human
thought is the spontaneous product of
blind, divine parturition?"

"Naturally. A fortuitous function
of the nerve-centers of our brain, like
some unforeseen chemical action which
is due to new mixtures, and which also
resembles a product of electricity,
caused by friction or the unexpected
proximity of some substance, and which,
lastly, resembles the phenomena caused
by the infinite and fruitful fermenta-
tions of living matter.

"But, my dear fellow, the tnith of
this must be evident to anyone who
looks about him. If human thought,
ordained by an omniscient Creator, had
been intended to be what it has become,
altogether different from mechanical
thoughts and resignation, so exacting,
inquiring, agitated, tormented, would the
world which was created to receive the

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beings which we now are have been this
unpleasant little dwelling place for poor
fools, this salad plot, this rocky, wooded,
and spherical kitchen garden where your
improvident Providence has destined us
to live naked, in caves or under trees,
nourished on the flesh of slaughtered
animals, our brethren, or on raw veg-
etables nourished by the sun and the

"But it is sufl&cient to reflect for a
moment, in order to understand that
this world was not made for such crea-
tures as we are. Thought, which is de-
veloped by a miracle in the nerves of
the cells and our brain, powerless, igno-
rant, and confused as it is, and as it will
always remain, makes all of us who are
intellectual beings eternal and wretched
exiles on earth.

"Look at this earth, as God has given
it to those who inhabit it. Is it not
visibly and solely made, planted and
covered with forests, for the sake of
animals? What is there for us? Noth-
ing. And for them? Everything. They
have nothing to do but to eat, or go
hunting and eat each other, according
to their instincts, for God never fore-
saw gentleness and peaceable manners;
He only foresaw the death of creatures
which were bent on destroymg and de-
vouring each other. Are not the quail,
the pigeon, and the partridge the na-
tural prey of the hawk? the sheep,
the stag, and the ox that of the great
flesh-eating animals, rather than meat
that has been fattened to be served up
to us with truffles, which have been un-
earthed by pigs, for our special benefit?

"As to ourselves, the more civilized,
intellectual, and refined we are, the
«nore we ought to conquer and subdue

that animal instinct, which represents
the will of God in us. And so, in or-
der to mitigate our lot as brutes, we
have discovered and made everything,
beginning with houses, then exquisite
food, sauces, sweetmeats, pastry, drink,
stuffs, clothes, ornaments, beds, mat-
tresses, carriages, railways, and in-
numerable machines, besides arts and
sciences, writing and poetry. Every
ideal comes from us as well as the
amenities of life, in order to make our
existence as simple reproducers, for
which divine Providence solely intended
us, less monotonous and less hard.

^'Look at this theater. Is there not
here a human world created by us, un-
foreseen and unknown by Eternal
destinies, comprehensible by our minds
alone, a sensual and intellectual distrac-
tion, which has been invented solely by
and for that discontented and restless
little animal that we are.

"Look at that woman, Madame de
Mascaret. God intended her to live in
a cave naked, or wrapped up in the
skins of wild animals, but is she not
better as she is? But, speaking of her,
does anyone know why and how her
brute of a husband, having such a com-
panion by his side, and especiaUy after
having been boorish enough to make
her a mother seven times, has suddenly
left her, to run after bad women?"

Grandin replied: "Oh! my dear fel-
low, this is probably the only reason.
He foimd that always living with her
was becoming too expensive in the end,
and from reasons of domestic economy,
he has arrived at the same principles
which you lay down as a philosopher.**

Just then the curtain rose for the

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third act, and they turned round, took
off their hats, and sat down.


The Count and Countess Mascaret
were sitting side by side in the carriage
which was taking them home from the
opera, without speaking. But suddenly
the husband said to his wife: *'Ga-

'What do you want?"

"Don't you think that this has lasted
long enough?"


"The horrible punishment to which
you have condemned me for the last
six years."

"What do you want? I cannot help

"Then tell me which of them it is?"


"Think that I can no longer see my
diildren or feel them round me, with-
out having my heart burdened with this
doubt. Tell me which of them it is,
and I swear that I will forgive you, and
treat it like the others."

"I have not the right to."

**You do not see that I can no longer
endure this life, this thought which is
wearing me out, or this question which
I am constantly asking myself, this ques-
tion which tortures me each time I look
at them. It is driving me mad."

"Then you have suffered a great
deal?" she said.

"Terribly. Should I, without that,
have accepted the horror of living by
your side, and the still greater horror of
feeling and knowing that there is one
among them whom I cannot recognize,
and who prevents me from loving the

She repeated: "Then you have really
suffered very much?" And 1 i replied in
a constrained and sorrowful voice:

"Yes, for do I not tell you every day
that it is intolerable torture to me?
Should I have remained in that house,
near you and them, if I did not love
them Oh! You have behaved abomi-
nably toward me. All the affection of
my heart I have bestowed i^on my
children, and that you know. I am for
them a father of the olden time, as I
was for you a husband of one of the
families of old, for by instinct I have
remained a natural man, a man of for-
mer days. Yes, I will confess it, you
have made me terribly jealous, because
you are a woman of another race, of
another soul, with other requirements.
Oh! I shall never forget the things that
you told me, but from that day, I
troubled myself no more about you. I
did not kill you, because then I should
have had no means on earth of ever dis-
covering which of our — of your children
is not mine. I have waited, but I have
suffered more than you would believe,
for I can no longer venture to love them,
except, perhaps, the two eldest; I no
longer venture to look at them, to call
them to me, to kiss them; I cannot
take them on to my knee without asking
myself: *Can it be this one?' I have
been correct in my behavior toward you
for six years, and even kind and com-
plaisant; tell me the truth, and I swear
that I will do nothing imkind.**

He thought, in spite of the darkness
of the carriage, that he could perceive
that she was moved, and feeling certain
that she was going to speak at last, he
said: "I beg you, I beseech you to tell

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"I have been more guilty than you
think perhaps," she replied; "but I
could no longer endure that life of con-
tinual pregnancy, and I had only one
means of driving you from my bed. I
lied before God, and I lied, with my
hand raised to my children's heads, for
I have never wronged you."

He seized her arm in the darkness,
and squeezing it as he had done on that
terrible day of their drive in the Bois
de Boulogne, he stammered: "Is that

"It is true."

But he in terrible grief said with a
groan: "I shall have fresh doubts that
will never end ! When did you lie, the last
time or now? How am I to believe you
at present? How can one believe a
woman after that? I shall never again
know what I am to think. I would
rather you had said to me: *It is
Jacques, or, it is Jeanne.' "

The carriage drove them into the
courtyard of their mansion, and when
it had drawn up in front of the steps,
the Count got down first as usual, and
offered his wife his arm, to help her up.
And then, as soon as they had reached
the first floor he said: "May I speak
to you for a few moments longer?"

And she replied: "I am quite will-

They went into a small drawing-room,
while a footman in some surprise, lit
the wax candles. As soon as he had left
the room and they were alone, he con-
tinued: "How am I to know the truth?
I have begged you a thousand times to
speak, but you have remained dumb,
impenetrable, inflexible, inexorable, and
now to-day, you tell me that you have
^een lying. For six years you have

actually allowed me to believe such a
thing! No, you are lying now, I do
not know why, but out of pity for me,

She replied in a sincere and convinc-
ing manner: "If I had not done so, I
should have had four more children in
the last six years!"

And he exclaimed: "Can a mother
speak like that?"

"Oh!" she replied, "I do not at all
feel that I am the mother of children
who have never been born, it is enough
for me to be the mother of those that
I have, and to love them with all my
heart. I am — ^we are — ^women who be-
long to the civilized world. Monsieur,
and we are no longer, and we refuse to
be, mere females who restock the earth."

She got up, but he seized her hands.
"Only one word, Gabrielle. Tell me
the truth!"

"I have just told you. I have never
dishonored you."

He looked her full in the face, and
how beautiful she was, with her gray
eyes, like the cold sky. In her dark
hair dress, on that opaque night of black
hair, there shone the diamond coronet,
like a cluster of stars. Then he sud-
denly felt, felt by a kind of intuition,
that this grand creature was not merely
a being destined to perpetuate his race,
but the strange and mysterious product
of all the complicated desires which
have been accumulating in us for cen-
turies but which have been turned aside
from their primitive and divine object,
and which have wandered after a mys-
tic, imperfectly seen, and intangible
beauty. There are some women like
that, women who blossom only for our
dreams, adorned with every poetical at-

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tribute of civilization, with that ideal
luxury, coquetry, and aesthetic charm
which should surround the living statue
who brightens our life.

Her husband remained standing be-
fore her, stupefied at the tardy and ob-
scure discovery, confusedly hitting on
the cause of his former jealousy, and
understanding it all very imperfectly.
At last he said: "I believe you, for I
feel at this moment that you are not

lying, and formerly, I really thought
that you were."

She put out her hand to him: "We
are friends then?"

He took her hand and kissed it, and
replied: "We are friends. Thank you,

Then he went out, still looking at her,
and surprised that she was still so beauti-
ful, and feeling a strange emotion arising
in him, which was, perhaps, more for-
midable than antique and simple love.

An Affair of State

Paris had just heard of the disaster
of Sedan. The Republic was proclaimed.
All France was panting from a mad-
ness that lasted until the time of the
Commonwealth. Everybody was play-
ing at soldier from one end of the coun-
try to the other.

Capmakers became colonels, assum-
ing the duties of generals; revolvers
and daggers were displayed on large
rotund bodies, enveloped in red sashes;
common citizens turned warriors, com-
manding battalions of noisy volunteers,
and swearing like troopers to emphasize
their importance.

The very fact of bearing arms and
handling guns with a system excited a
people who hitherto had only handled
scales and measures, and made them
formidable to the first comer, without
reason. They even executed a few in-
nocent people to prove that they knew
how to kill; and, in roaming through
virgin fields still belonging to the Prus-
sians, they shot stray dogs, cows chew-

ing the cud in peace, or sick horses put
out to pasture. Each believed himself
called upon to play a great role in
military affairs. The cajhs of the
smallest villages, full of tradesmen in
uniform, resembled barracks or field

Now, the town of Canneville did not
yet know the exciting news of the army
and the Capital. It had, however,
been greatly agitated for a month over
an encounter between the rival political
parties. The mayor. Viscount de Var-
netot, a small, thin man, already old,
remained true to the Empire, especially
since he saw rising up agaiiist him a
powerful adversary, in the great, san-
guine form of Doctor Massarel, head of
the Republican party in the district,
venerable chief of the Masonic lodge,
president of the Society of Agriculture
and the Fire Department, and organizer
of the rural militia designed to save the

In two weeks he had induced sixty*

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three men to volunteer in defense of
their country — ^married men, fathers of
families, prudent farmers and merchants
of the town. These he drilled every
morning in front of the mayor^s window.

Whenever the mayor happened to ap-
pear, Commander Massarel, covered
with pistols, passing proudly up and
down in front of his troops, would make
them shout, "Long live our country I"
And this, they noticed, disturbed the lit-
tle viscount, who no doubt heard in it
menace and defiance, and perhaps some
odious recollection of the great Revolu-

On the morning of the fifth of Sep-
tember, in uniform, his revolver on the
table, the doctor gave consultation to an
old peasant couple. The husband had
suffered with a varicose vein for seven
years, but had waited until his wife had
one too, so that they might go and hunt
up a physician together, guided by the
postman when he should come mtb, the

Dr. Massarel opened the door, grew
pale, straightened himself abruptly and,
raising his arms to heaven in a gesture
of exaltation, cried out with all his
might, in the face of the amazed rustics:

"Long live the Republic! Long live
the Republic ! Long live the Republic !''

Then he dropped into his armchair
weak with emotion.

When the peasant explained that this
sickness commenced with a feeling as
if ants were running up and down in
his legs, the doctor exclaimed: "Hold
your peace. I have spent too much
time with you stupid people. The Re-
public is proclaimed! The Emperor is a
prisoner! France is saved! Long live
the Republic!" And, running to the

door, he bellowed: "Celeste! Quick!

The frightened maid hastened in. He
stuttered, so rapidly did he try to speak:
*'My boots, my saber — ^my cartridge
box— and — the Spanish dagger, which is
on my night table. Hurry now!"

The obstinate peasant, taking ad-
vantage of the moment's silence, be-
gan again: "This seemed like some
cysts that hurt me when I walked."

The exasperated physician shouted:
"Hold your peace! For Heaven's sake!
If you had washed your feet oftener, it
would not have happened." Then,
seizing hun by the neck, he hissed in
his face: "Can you not comprehend
that we are living in a Republic,

But professional sentiment calmeK
him suddenly, and he let the astonished
old couple out of the house, repeating
all the time:

"Return to-morrow, return to-morrow,
my friends; I have no more time to*

While equipping himself from head
to foot, he gave another series of ur-
gent orders to the maid:

"Run to Lieutenant Picard's and to
Sub-lieutenant PommePs and say to
them that I want them here immedi-
ately. Send Torcheboeuf to me, too,
with his drum. Quick, now! Quick!"
And when Celeste was gone, he collected
his thoughts and prepared to surmount
the difficulties of the situation.

The three men arrived together. They

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 16 of 125)